Washington D.C., Feb 19, 2021 / 08:30 am (CNA).- Pro-life leaders and scholars are warning against the nomination of California’s attorney general to lead the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
In December, then-President-elect Joe Biden tapped Xavier Becerra—former congressman and current attorney general of California—to be the next HHS Secretary. Next week, Becerra will appear before two U.S. Senate committees at his confirmation hearings. The committees will then either vote to send his confirmation to the entire Senate favorably, unfavorably, or without its recommendation, or may not take action on his confirmation.
Pro-life groups and former administration officials point to Becerra’s record on abortion as “radical,” saying that in California he aggressively prosecuted pro-life activists, pushed to liberalize state and federal abortion regulations, and defended state laws that forced Catholic nuns and pregnancy centers to provide coverage for, and refer for, abortions.
Scholar Ryan Anderson, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC), said that Becerra is an “ideological culture warrior” who would only serve to heighten current political polarization.
Roger Severino, former head of the HHS Office for Civil Rights and senior fellow at EPPC, said that Becerra’s confirmation to lead the agency would be an “astounding conflict of interest”—given that Severino’s office twice found Becerra’s in violation of federal conscience laws.
In Jan., 2020, Severino’s office determined that California had violated federal law in forcing Catholic and pro-life groups to cover abortions in their health plans. After the office gave Becerra 30 days to comply with federal conscience protections, Becerra refused.
In December, the Trump administration announced that HHS would withhold $200 million in Medicaid funds to California, for refusing to comply with the law. Severino’s office in 2019 also found that Becerra previously had violated the law in forcing California pregnancy centers to advertise for abortions.
Becerra “wants to impose California’s COVID-19 failures and abortion extremism on the rest of the nation,” Severino said on Thursday.
A coalition of conservative groups—including CatholicVote and the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List—are launching a media and grassroots campaign against Becerra’s confirmation as well as Vanita Gupta’s confirmation as associate attorney general.
“The choice of Becerra for HHS was a total 180 from the talk of ‘unity’ surrounding the inauguration,” stated Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List. “He’s as extreme as they come on abortion.”
On Wednesday, the chair of the Senate Pro-Life Caucus said Becerra was “radical” in using the power of the state to prosecute pro-life groups.
Throughout his career in California, Becerra has been “attacking” pro-life nuns and pro-life crisis pregnancy clinics “with radical, radical efforts,” Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) said at an online panel opposing Becerra’s confirmation.
Becerra’s previous opposition to laws protecting infant survivors of abortion—while he was a congressman—“is just chilling for all of us,” Daines said, “but that is who will lead the HHS Department.”
As attorney general of California, Becerra repeatedly defended the state’s pro-abortion laws while also prosecuting pro-life activists. He also led other state attorneys general in fighting state abortion restrictions in court.
Becerra defended the state’s Reproductive FACT Act, a law passed in 2015 before his tenure that forced crisis pregnancy centers to advertise where clients could get abortions. The court battles over the law reached the Supreme Court, which ruled in 2018 that the law violated the free speech rights of pregnancy centers.
He also continued the state’s prosecution of pro-life activist David Daleiden, for his 2015 undercover videos claiming that Planned Parenthood unlawfully profited from the fetal tissue of aborted babies. The previous attorney general, current Vice President Kamala Harris, initiated the prosecution of Daleiden.
Becerra defended the state’s 2014 mandate which forced even Catholic religious— the Missionary Guadalupanas of the Holy Spirit—to provide abortion coverage in employee health plans. For this action—as well as for the state’s previous enforcement of the Reproductive FACT Act—the HHS Office for Civil Rights issued notices of violation to the state.
Earlier in the pandemic, Becerra advocated that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allow the abortion pill regimen to be prescribed remotely during the coronavirus pandemic.
In 2017, he sued the Trump administration for giving broad religious and moral exemptions from the HHS mandate, including to the Little Sisters of the Poor.
Becerra’s “only healthcare qualifications seem to be his attacks on pro-life medicine, his persecution of the Little Sisters of the Poor, and his defense of an unlawful California abortion mandate,” Anderson noted.
While a congressman, Becerra voted against a partial-birth abortion ban and also opposed a bill that criminalized the killing of an unborn child resulting from an assault on the mother.
“His positions on life and religious liberty make him an outlier,” Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, stated of Becerra.
Sen. Daines said that the adage of “personnel is policy” rings true with Becerra’s nomination.
“When President Joe Biden nominates somebody like Xavier Becerra, it tells you exactly where Joe Biden’s center of gravity is on this issue of abortion, and protecting the most vulnerable in our society,” Daines said.
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