The Biden Administration's secretary of Health and Human Services on Thursday repeatedly refused to acknowledge the existence of a 2003 law that bans partial-birth abortion, even though he voted against it as a member of the House of Representatives.
HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra was asked six times by Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) during a committee hearing about the legality of partial-birth abortion but dodged the question each time.
Congress passed and President George W. Bush signed a law in 2003 banning partial-birth abortion, and the U.S. Supreme Court upheld it in a 2007 landmark case. The late-term procedure involves partially delivering a live baby, feet-first, until only the head is in the birth canal. The brain is then suctioned from the skull, killing the baby and allowing a dead delivery.
Becerra, in May, told a House committee, "there is no law that deals specifically with the term partial-birth abortion." Politifact rated his claim "false."
In 2003, Becerra was one of 142 House members to vote against the then-bill.
"Is it illegal?" Daines asked.
"What I can tell you," Becerra replied, "is that women in this country under Roe v Wade …."
Daines interrupted and asked, "Is partial-birth abortion legal or illegal in the United States?"
"Senator, again, we're going to get into this technical discussion," Becerra began.
"No," Daines said, "it's not a technical discussion. It's a question. [It's] pretty simple. Is it legal or illegal?"
"A woman has a right to receive a …" Becerra began before Daines interrupted, saying, "Are you saying it's legal? A partial-birth abortion?"
"What I can tell you without question is that a woman has a right to exercise …," Becerra answered.
"I would hope you understand," Daines said, "that title 18 of the U.S. Code Section 1531 signed into law in 2003 states that partial-birth abortion is illegal. Do you agree with that?"
"Senator, I could talk to you about the legal cases that have arisen as a result of that particular statute," Becerra said. "But what it's probably better to, again, say to you [is] that a woman has a right in this country to exercise reproductive choice, and we will defend that."
"That doesn't mean breaking the law which the code is very clear," Daines said.
"We will never break the law," Becerra replied.
Daines then tried again.
"My question is, is partial-birth abortion legal or illegal?" Daines asked. "It's not a trick question or a complicated question."
Becerra, though, dodged again.
"Senator, I'll direct you then to the decisions that the courts have issued with regard to that particular statute if you'd like," Becerra said. "And that's why I continue to repeat to you that what is the law is the right of a woman under Roe v Wade to receive reproductive health care services."
The pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List criticized Becerra, saying in a tweet the "top health official in the nation" had "repeatedly" refused "to acknowledge" a federal law.
"This is not only disturbing. It's disqualifying," the group tweeted.
This is not only disturbing. It's disqualifying.— Susan B. Anthony List #HydeSavesLives (@SBAList) June 10, 2021
Watch the top health official in the nation repeatedly refuse to acknowledge the existence of a federal ban on the barbaric partial-birth abortion procedure (which was upheld by the supreme court)
The law: https://t.co/SnIMotOrQl https://t.co/jobhfV1xJU
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Justin Sullivan/Staff
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.