Washington D.C., Jan 31, 2023 / 16:00 pm (CNA).
Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio introduced a bill that would prohibit the executive branch from expanding abortion access through a public health emergency, just one day after a Biden administration official floated the idea.
The legislation, which Rubio introduced on Tuesday, would prevent any emergency declaration that was intended to promote, support, or expand access to abortion or punish states that have restricted abortion. It would expressly prohibit the president from declaring a national emergency or an emergency declaration under the Stafford Act and prohibit the secretary of Health and Human Services from declaring a public health emergency for this purpose.
More than 80 Democratic lawmakers have encouraged President Joe Biden and his administration to issue an emergency declaration to expand abortion access. Although the administration has not committed to this approach, Axios reported on Tuesday morning that the Department of Health and Human Services is examining the possibility of declaring a public health emergency for this purpose.
Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra said there has not yet been a full assessment but that there is an ongoing evaluation into this possible approach, Axios reported.
“There are certain criteria that you look for to be able to declare a public health emergency,” Becerra reportedly told Axios. “That’s typically done by scientists and those that are professionals in those fields who will tell us whether we are in a state of emergency and based on that, I have the ability to make a declaration.”
A public health emergency declaration is normally issued to address severe weather, disease outbreaks, or other imminent health emergencies. Some pro-life lawmakers and organizations warned that using this authority to expand abortion access would be an abuse of power.
“The fact that the Biden administration wants to declare a public emergency to promote the wanton abortion of unborn children, a grotesque abuse of power, but won’t hardly spend a dime on tackling true emergencies like the one at our southern border, proves just how painfully out of touch President Biden is,” Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Mississippi, the chair of the Senate Pro-Life caucus, told CNA in a statement.
National Right to Life Committee President Carol Tobias told CNA that using a public health emergency to expand abortion access would be overstepping the executive branch’s authority and would likely face legal challenges.
“In the end, the ability not to kill preborn babies does not make for a public health emergency,” Tobias said. “There are times where I think this is absolutely their No. 1 priority.”
Tobias cautioned that “this could be a way that the administration is trying to undermine the Hyde Amendment” and “use our tax dollars … to fund abortion.” The Hyde Amendment prohibits the federal government from funding abortion, with the exception of rape, incest, and the life of the mother.
Alternatively, Tobias said Biden should support “programs to help moms and babies” such as allowing mothers to deduct an unborn child as a dependent for tax purposes or supporting pro-life pregnancy centers.
Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of SBA Pro-Life America, referred to the possibility of a public health emergency declaration as pro-abortion extremism.
“They think allowing more Americans to be born is a crisis, and the only solution is ending those lives through abortion for any reason up until birth,” Dannenfelser said in a statement.
“Their latest scheme would result in taxpayer-funded abortion on demand across the country with no protections whatsoever for unborn children or their mothers — including dangerous mail-order abortion drugs that put women at risk of serious complications. If Democrats were truly concerned about women facing difficult circumstances, they would support the pregnancy centers that serve them and outnumber Planned Parenthood 14 to 1 nationwide,” Dannenfelser said.
Rubio introduced a similar bill last June, but the Democrat-controlled Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions failed to move it forward.
Democrats still maintain narrow control of the Senate, which also gives them control over the committees.
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