Over 40 pro-life leaders call on Senate to reject Biden's nominee to head HHS

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra is seen in this 2018 file photo. he is President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee to head the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (CNS photo/Lucy Nicholson, Reuters)

By Julie Asher, Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Over 40 prominent pro-life leaders called on the U.S. Senate Dec. 21 to reject President-elect Joe Biden’s nomination of California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to head the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“Mr. Becerra carries a national reputation for his vehement, unwavering support for abortion, including in the ninth month, his staunch convictions in opposition to conscience rights for medical professionals, and his hostile opinions regarding the freedoms of religious organizations, among other issues that are of major concern to us,” the leaders said in a letter to senators.

Becerra, who was nominated by Biden Dec. 7, must be confirmed by the Senate. He would be the first Latino to be HHS secretary and would be Biden’s chief health care officer.

Pro-life leaders who signed the letter included the heads of March for Life, Students for Life Action, Family Research Council, Susan B. Anthony List, National Right to Life, Live Action, Dr. James Dobson Family Institute, Center for Medical Progress, And Then There were None and National Institute of Family & Life Advocates.

The group cited Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America’s 100% rating for Becerra’s record on abortion during his 25 years in Congress.

Among other actions as a House member, Becerra voted against the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act and the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would prevent abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy when, the bill said, extensive evidence shows an unborn child is capable of feeling great pain.”

He also voted against the Conscience Protection Act of 2016, which would have prevented the federal government from denying federal funds to Catholic hospitals and other facilities that refuse to perform abortions.

Becerra also worked in 2009 to get the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act through Congress, leading to its successful passage in 2010. As California’s attorney general, he has defended the ACA in court.

Those who support his nomination to head HHS say he has spent his career spent “fighting for underserved communities” and his efforts “to protect the welfare of immigrants and migrants.”

Mercy Sister Mary Haddad, who is president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association, called Becerra “a strong partner with CHA in defending the Affordable Care Act and for advocating for greater access to quality, affordable health care coverage for everyone, particularly the most vulnerable.”

Currently, he is the head attorney in a group of attorneys general from Democratic-led states defending ACA law against the Trump administration’s lawsuit to have it overturned.

A native of Sacramento, California, Becerra was sworn in Jan. 24, 2017, as California’s 33rd attorney general. He’s the first Latino to hold the office in the history of the state. He succeeded Kamala Harris, now vice president-elect, in the post after she was elected to the U.S. Senate Nov. 8, 2016.

Other objections to Becerra raised by the pro-life leaders is his involvement in litigation to revoke the Little Sisters of the Poor’s religious exemption to the ACA contraceptive mandate in the state of California.

Becerra had sued the Trump administration for expanding the religious exemption to the ACA’s contraceptive mandate in 2017 to fully accommodate the Little Sisters of the Poor’s refusal on religious grounds to cover contraceptives and abortifacients in their employee health care plan.

He argued the federal government was inserting itself into the state’s “sovereign duty” to protect women’s “reproductive rights.”

The religious order ultimately prevailed on July 8 of this year when the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in their favor in a similar challenge from Pennsylvania. But California is still working to take away their exemption as upheld by the court.

“His bias for anti-life, anti-religion policy is apparent, and he should be rejected to serve as a national department head,” the pro-life leaders said.

Their letter to the Senate follows a national petition by Students for Life Action petition urging Becerra not be confirmed. The group outlined the same issues as the pro-life leaders but highlighted the HHS nominee joining in a friend-of-the-court-brief earlier this year challenging the Food and Drug Administration’s requirement the abortion pill be dispensed in-person.

The brief argued that because the pandemic was severely limiting in-person visits to doctors and pharmacists, women seeking a chemical abortion were being denied their rightful access to the abortion pill.

“Consensus is a rare thing in political life these days, especially when it comes to what’s needed to address COVID-19,” Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life Action, wrote in a Dec. 12 online op-ed for RealClear Politics.

But, she wrote, “one idea has emerged from the abortion lobby as their solution to the pandemic. It’s being pushed through by the media and liberal, political establishment, and that is the expansion and deregulation of the chemical abortion pill market for DIY abortions.”

Others have criticized Biden’s choice of Becerra because the nominee has no front-line experience in the medical field.

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