This is Part 2 of a blog series examining the records of President Biden’s Cabinet picks on abortion and family issues. Read Part 1 on Antony Blinken.
During his inaugural address, President Joe Biden spoke repeatedly about the need for national unity. “With unity we can do great things. Important things,” he declared, adding, “For without unity, there is no peace, only bitterness and fury.”
While these inaugural platitudes about unity and healing were rhetorically effective, the new president has wasted little time in delivering on divisive campaign promises. These include reinstating President Obama’s transgender military policy, ordering federal agencies to redefine “sex” in their sex discrimination policies to include sexual orientation and gender identity, and repealing the Mexico City Policy that prohibited taxpayer money from funding overseas abortions. These policy changes, enacted unilaterally by executive order, offer little comfort to Americans who hoped the new administration would focus less on the culture wars and more on combating the coronavirus, re-opening America’s economy, and protecting the country from external threats.
Unfortunately, Biden’s nomination of California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to lead the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is another example of why uniformity—not unity—seems to be the goal of the Biden administration.
HHS is one of 15 executive departments within the federal government. Although not the largest department in terms of personnel, it has the largest budget—over $1.3 trillion annually (compare that with the Department of Defense’s $721.5 billion budget in 2020). As the department tasked with overseeing health services, HHS has jurisdiction over nearly every aspect of federal policy concerning abortion. Because of Becerra’s record on abortion, his nomination to lead HHS is deeply troubling.
Concerns related to Becerra’s record on abortion are well-founded. During his 24 years in the U.S. House of Representatives, Becerra proved to be one of the abortion lobby’s most reliable voters. For example, in 2003, he voted against prohibiting the gruesome practice of partial-birth abortion. In 2005, Becerra voted against making the harming or killing of an unborn child during the committing of a violent crime a criminal offense. Becerra also voted for taxpayer funding of human embryonic stem cell experimentation in 2006 and against redirecting said money to more ethical lines of research. More recently, he voted against imposing civil and criminal penalties on anyone who knowingly attempted to commit an abortion on the basis of the sex or race of the unborn child or the race of a parent.
Becerra continued his work to advance abortion when he became California’s attorney general in 2017. Since taking office, he has filed numerous lawsuits seeking to overturn pro-life laws in other states, including Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Ohio. In 2019, Becerra sued the Trump administration over an HHS rule that blocked millions of dollars to abortion businesses who refused to separate their abortion business from family planning services. In 2019, he sued the Little Sisters of the Poor, insisting that the nuns should be forced to pay for abortifacients and contraception against their religious convictions.
As attorney general, Becerra defended a California law that required pro-life pregnancy care centers to provide information to their patients on how to obtain state-funded abortions. The case, NIFLA v. Becerra, went to the Supreme Court, which struck down the law as unconstitutional in 2018. Justice Thomas, who wrote the majority’s opinion, noted that the California law defended by Becerra imposed an undue burden on the First Amendment rights of pro-life clinics and doctors. Becerra also defended California’s abortion coverage mandate that was in direct violation the Weldon Amendment. HHS notified California in January 2020 that its mandate was in violation of federal law. Instead of working with HHS to remedy the issue, Becerra doubled down, telling the Trump administration that they were impeding California’s ability to support women’s right to “reproductive freedom.”
Finally, Becerra continued what his predecessor, Kamala Harris, started by continuing the investigation into pro-life journalists who had exposed Planned Parenthood’s role in selling baby body parts. In 2015, David Daleiden released a series of videos showing Planned Parenthood executives discussing fees for human fetal tissue and organs. Rather than pursue Planned Parenthood—which endorsed Becerra in 2017 when he ran for attorney general—Becerra harassed and investigated Daleiden. Actions like this demonstrate Becerra’s proven record of shaping the law to fit his ideology. Instead of doing a substantive investigation into the evidence that Planned Parenthood violated federal law, he directly targeted Daleiden because his videos revealed unsavory truths about the abortion industry.
In short, Becerra’s record is known and well documented. Thus, while Joe Biden has preached a message of unity and told his supporters that they shouldn’t treat political opponents as enemies, the nomination of an abortion hardliner like Xavier Becerra sends a clear message: a Biden administration will not be moderate on abortion.
Nominating Becerra, a politician with little experience concerning matters related to public health, to lead the federal agency tasked with public health amid a global pandemic prioritizes political and ideological commitments over public safety. It signals Biden’s readiness to reverse President Trump’s pro-life policies. It also reveals tone-deafness to the tens of millions of Americans who just elected the most pro-life women to Congress in history.
Elections have consequences, and Americans should not be surprised that the most pro-abortion candidate in American history is nominating ideologues committed to promoting abortion. But if there was ever a time to draw a line in the sand over a nomination, this is the nominee, and this is the time. Becerra’s nomination is currently pending before the U.S. Senate, and senators committed to protecting the unborn should do everything in their power to oppose and block his nomination. Incoming presidents generally deserve deference when it comes to assembling their cabinet. However, Xavier Becerra’s extreme positions and advocacy for abortion rights are disqualifying when it comes to leading the department tasked with protecting America’s health.