The U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) denied the existence of a federal law against partial birth abortion before a Congressional committee this week.
“There is no law that deals specifically with the term ‘partial-birth abortion’,” Xavier Becerra said.
Becerra testified before the House Energy & Commerce Committee Subcommittee on Health Wednesday.
In the hearing, Becerra responded to repeated questions about the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act (18 U.S. Code § 1531), first denying that the law existed, despite the fact he’d voted against it as a member of Congress, and then skirting questions about whether he would enforce it in his current role with HHS.
The law defines partial-birth abortion as “deliberately and intentionally vaginally deliver[ing] a living fetus until, in the case of a head-first presentation, the entire fetal head is outside the body of the mother, or, in the case of breech presentation, any part of the fetal trunk past the navel is outside the body of the mother, for the purpose of performing an overt act that the person knows will kill the partially delivered living fetus.”
Congress passed the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act in 2003. It was signed into law by President George W. Bush. The law includes an exception for cases where the mother's life is in danger.
As a California congressman at the time, Becerra voted against the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act.
Abortionist Leroy Carhart had sued to stop the ban from going into effect. In 2007 the Supreme Court upheld the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act in Gonzales v. Carhart.
At this week’s House Energy & Commerce Committee Subcommittee on Health hearing Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) pointed out that Becerra has stated many times he would (in general) uphold the law, and asked if that would include upholding the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act.
In his response to Bilirakis, Becerra said, “…there is no law that deals specifically with the term partial birth abortion.”
Rep. John Joyce (R-PA) then pressed Becerra, “It didn’t seem clear that you understood what my colleague Mr. Bilirakis meant by the term ‘Partial-Birth abortion.’ …Section 1531 of Title 18 USC is literally titled, “Partial-Birth Abortions prohibited.”
Joyce asked Becerra to clarify if he recognized that partial-birth abortion is prohibited by law. Becerra’s response was to dodge the question.
Joyce later tweeted of the exchange that, “Becerra just REFUSED to acknowledge our nation's legal ban on partial-birth abortion. As we've feared all along, @SecBecerra is brazenly ignoring the law of the land.”
In the House committee hearing Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) then gave getting an answer from Becerra a try.
“You seem to indicate that you actually do not support or recognize the statute on Partial-Birth Abortions,” he said. “Can we answer that more clearly now?”
Tweet This: “You (Xavier Becerra) seem to indicate that you actually do not support or recognize the statute on Partial-Birth Abortions” -Rep. Crenshaw
.@RepGusBilirakis: Will you uphold the law banning Partial-Birth Abortions?@SecBecerra: There is no such law…— Susan B. Anthony List (@SBAList) May 12, 2021
The law passed & Supreme Court upheld it.
This law bans killing a child when it is already partially born.
You voted AGAINST this law.
Shame on you. pic.twitter.com/vESTylewGS
Becerra’s replies to the Congress members’ repeated questioning of whether he would uphold the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act included statements such as:
“There is no medical term like ‘partial birth abortion,’” Roe v. Wade is very clear, a woman has a right to make decisions about her reproductive health,” and “We have clear precedent in the law on the rights that women have to reproductive healthcare.”
Where he would not recognize partial birth abortion as a medical term nor confirm whether he would recognize or enforce the federal statute prohibiting the procedure, he repeatedly confirmed he would uphold Roe v. Wade.
Pro-life advocates had opposed Becerra’s nomination as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services because of Becerra’s history of opposition to conscience rights and hostility toward religious freedom related to abortion and contraception, his rabid support for abortion, use of his government roles to advance abortion and punish those who oppose it and his complete lack of healthcare administration background.
During his 24 years in Congress, they pointed out, Becerra “consistently voted against any and all protections for the preborn, even up to the moment of birth," and "rejected such basic, majority-supported policies as bans on partial-birth abortion and taxpayer funding of abortion, in addition to numerous others that would have acknowledged and defended the humanity of the preborn child."
As attorney general of California Becerra also defended California’s attempt to force pro-life medical clinics and pregnancy resource centers to provide information about abortion services in the landmark NIFLA v. Becerra case.
Had the California law not been struck down by the Supreme Court in 2018, the state’s pregnancy help centers would have been forced to promote abortion in order to operate, with the legal implications extending beyond California, in, as pro-life advocates said, “a clear assault on conscience protections and a direct violation of their first amendment rights."