HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra’s Disingenuous Response to the Question of the Legality of the 2003 Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act

By Laura Echevarria, Press Secretary

WASHINGTON — During a hearing Wednesday before the House Energy & Commerce Committee Subcommittee on Health, Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.), Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Tx.), and Rep. John Joyce, MD (R-Pa.) each asked HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra his opinion on whether the partial-birth abortion procedure was illegal. Repeatedly, Secretary Becerra denied that there was a law prohibiting partial-birth abortions.

“We thank Rep. Bilirakis, Rep. Crenshaw and Rep. Joyce for their courageous support of the right to life and this revealing questioning of Secretary Becerra,” said Carol Tobias, president of National Right to Life (NRLC). “Secretary Becerra’s answers were disingenuous, evasive at best.”

Tobias added, “The members’ attempts to have Secretary Becerra clarify his stance on the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act were more revealing of the Secretary’s position than the Secretary’s ambiguous answers during his Senate confirmation hearings. As a member of Congress, Secretary Becerra voted against passage of the 2003 Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. The law passed and was found to be constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2007.”

From the transcript:

Rep. Bilirakis: Do you agree that partial-birth abortion is illegal, sir?

Sec. Becerra: Congressman, thank you for the question and, here, as I said in response to some of those questions during my confirmation hearing, we will continue to make sure we follow the law. Again, with due respect, there is no medical term like partial-birth abortion and so I would probably have to ask you what you mean by that– to describe what is allowed by the law.

Sec. Becerra: Which law are we talking about, sir?

Rep. Bilirakis: The law concerning partial-birth abortion.

Sec. Becerra: Well, again, as I said, there is no law that deals specifically with the term partial-birth abortion…

Under additional questioning by Rep. Crenshaw, Sec. Becerra continued to evade. However, under questioning by Rep. Joyce, Becerra again asserted that the term partial-birth abortion was not a medical term and added:

Sec. Becerra: My question is not so much with the term partial-birth abortion, [it] is with what the rights are of the woman…

Sec. Becerra: I will make sure we are providing women with the protections they need on their reproductive rights.

Beginning in 1995, three times National Right to Life led the fight to pass the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. “Our staff, supporters, and affiliates worked tirelessly to override Bill Clinton’s two vetoes of the legislation before finally seeing the bill become law thanks to President George W. Bush,” Tobias said.

Continued Tobias, “While a member of Congress, Secretary Becerra could not fail to note that the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act was the primary legislative goal of NRLC. He could not fail to note the educational efforts led by National Right to Life. And it is certainly credulous that he could have failed to note the National Right to Life informational materials distributed to every member of the House and Senate.”

The 2003 Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act describes the procedure as:

…an abortion in which a physician deliberately and intentionally vaginally delivers a living, unborn child’s body until either the entire baby’s head is outside the body of the mother, or any part of the baby’s trunk past the navel is outside the body of the mother and only the head remains inside the womb, for the purpose of performing an overt act (usually the puncturing of the back of the child’s skull and removing the baby’s brains) that the person knows will kill the partially delivered infant, performs this act, and then completes delivery of the dead infant.

Secretary Becerra’s evasive answers are in line with a long track record of hostility to any attempt to provide legal protection for unborn children. Secretary Becerra’s support of abortion on demand for any reason and at any time during pregnancy, as well as his campaign against pregnancy help centers while attorney general of California, is extensive and well documented.

As a member of the U.S. House of Representatives representing California’s 34th Congressional District, Becerra had a 100% voting record with the abortion lobby group NARAL and voted against several key pieces of protective legislation, including:

  • The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. This legislation would prevent abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy when extensive evidence shows an unborn child is capable of feeling great pain;
  • A law that would prevent the interstate transport of minors for the express purpose of obtaining an abortion without the parents’ knowledge or permission. The law would have prevented a statutory rapist from taking his victim across state lines to bypass parental involvement laws;
  • The Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act which would require that a baby born alive during an abortion be afforded the same degree of care that would apply to any other child delivered at the same gestational age;
  • The Unborn Victims of Violence Act that would have made it a crime to harm an unborn child when a perpetrator was committing another crime; and,
  • The Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act which outlawed an abortion procedure where a child is delivered until all but the head is exposed. Then the child is stabbed in the back of the neck with scissors or other sharp instrument, a suction device is inserted, the baby’s brains are suctioned out, and the baby’s skull collapses. This allows for a completed delivery of the now-dead baby.