WASHINGTON (BP) – Xavier Becerra narrowly gained U.S. Senate confirmation Thursday (March 18) as secretary of Health and Human Services to the dismay of pro-life and religious freedom advocates.
Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine gave Democrats the vote they needed to confirm President Biden’s controversial nominee in a 50-49 roll call. All other GOP members opposed Becerra while one Democrat, Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, was absent, reportedly because of a family emergency.
The Senate action brought an end to an effort by pro-life and religious liberty organizations to prevent Becerra’s confirmation because of his support as a long-time congressman for seemingly unlimited abortion rights and his lawsuits as California’s attorney general against pregnancy care centers and a Catholic order that objected to an abortion/contraception mandate.
Becerra’s confirmation “is alarming given the fact that he has spent his career expanding pro-abortion policies and persecuting pro-life groups and individuals,” said Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life. “If his record is any indication, Becerra will weaponize the more than trillion-dollar budget of the Department of Health and Human Services [HHS] to attack or disadvantage those with whom he disagrees, and advance unpopular pro-abortion policies.”
Kristen Waggoner, general counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, said Becerra “holds little regard for the rights of conscience or protecting vulnerable human life” and can be expected to “continue his attack on the civil liberties of those with whom he disagrees.”
Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), joined more than 60 other pro-life leaders in a February letter led by pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List that asked senators to oppose Becerra’s confirmation.
Travis Wussow, the ERLC’s vice president for public policy, said after the confirmation vote Becerra “does not share the same view on many critical issues as the ERLC, and when we disagree with his actions, we will bear witness, seek to persuade and hold him accountable to uphold the law.”
“As we have always done, we will work with government officials on issues where we may share common concern,” Wussow said. “Now in the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the work of the appointees and professionals at HHS is as important as ever, as we work together as a nation to distribute the vaccine and rebuild our communities. I am praying for Secretary Becerra and his team that they would serve and lead well in that effort.”
Abortion rights organizations applauded the Senate vote.
Alexis McGill Johnson, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said her organization is “thrilled.” Becerra’s “record fighting for high quality, equitable health care, including sexual and reproductive care, makes him the right person for the job at this critical time,” she said.
Becerra tweeted he was “honored and humbled” by the Senate’s vote.
The confirmation of Biden’s nominee as HHS secretary is the latest in a series of decisions by the president affirming abortion rights and abortion funding since he was inaugurated in January. Biden’s other actions include:
- Revoking what is commonly known as the Mexico City Policy, which bars organizations from receiving federal funds unless they agree not to perform or promote abortions internationally.
- Directing the restoration of funds for the United Nations Population Fund, which has been linked to support of a Chinese population-control program that includes forced abortions and sterilizations.
- Ordering HHS to consider immediately whether to repeal a rule that prohibits Title X family planning funds from going to Planned Parenthood and other organizations that perform or promote abortions.
- Signing into law a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill that failed to include the Hyde Amendment, a long-standing prohibition on federal funding of abortion.
- Endorsing the Equality Act, an expansive gay and transgender rights bill that would violate the conscience rights of health care workers who oppose participating in abortions and would threaten the Hyde Amendment.
Among the reasons cited by pro-life and religious freedom advocates for their opposition to Becerra’s confirmation were:
- His votes as a 12-term member of the U.S. House of Representatives from California against a ban on partial-birth abortion, which involves the killing of a nearly fully delivered unborn child; the Pain-capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would prohibit abortions on babies 20 weeks or more after fertilization based on scientific evidence that a child in the womb experiences pain by that point in gestation; and the Born-alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, which requires a baby that survives an attempted abortion to receive the same degree of care offered any other child born alive at the same point in gestation.
- His lawsuit as California’s attorney general against the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic order that serves the poverty-stricken elderly, and other organizations that sought to coerce them to violate their convictions by complying with a rule implementing the 2010 health care law. That regulation required employers to provide for their workers federally approved contraceptives, including ones with mechanisms that can potentially induce abortions.
- His suit while attorney general to enforce a California law that, in part, essentially requires pregnancy care centers to promote the state’s free or low-cost access to abortion and other family planning services.