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Senate committee splits on Becerra confirmation

March 3, 2021 CNA Daily News 1

Washington D.C., Mar 3, 2021 / 06:00 pm (CNA).- The Senate Finance Committee was divided on the confirmation of Xavier Becerra as Secretary of Health and Human Services on Wednesday.

In voting to favorably recommend the confirmation of Becerra to the … […]

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Health secretary nominee grilled on partial-birth abortion, taxpayer-funded abortion

February 23, 2021 CNA Daily News 0

Washington D.C., Feb 23, 2021 / 11:00 am (CNA).- President Biden’s nominee for health secretary on Tuesday would not commit to preventing federal funding of abortions, and would not say why he once opposed a partial-birth abortion ban.


Appearing before members of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions on Tuesday, California’s attorney general Xavier Becerra would not answer why he voted against a partial-birth abortion ban in 2003, while a U.S. congressman.


If confirmed as health secretary, Becerra said he would try to find “common ground” with those whom he disagreed with on the issue.


“I think we can find some common ground on these issues, because everyone wants to make sure that, if you have an opportunity, you’re going to live a healthy life,” Becerra said in response to a question by Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Mass.); the senator had asked why Becerra, as a congressman, voted against a partial-birth abortion ban.


“I think we can reach common ground on many issues. But on partial-birth abortion, it sounds like we’re not going to reach common ground there,” Romney said in response.


Becerra, President Biden’s nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), also said on Tuesday that he would “follow the law” on federal funding of abortion, as health secretary.


Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) noted Becerra’s “very extreme” record on abortion, and asked him to commit “to not using taxpayer money to fund abortions and abortion providers.”


Becerra did not commit to that, but simply made a promise to “definitely follow the law when it comes to the use of federal resources,” and noted that “we probably will not agree on all the issues.”


Although the Hyde Amendment has traditionally banned the use of federal dollars for elective abortions, President Biden has supported the repeal of the policy, and the White House has not guaranteed that an upcoming COVID relief bill would not include abortion funding.


Other Democratic congressional leaders have also said they intend to not include the policy in appropriations bills this year; the Hyde Amendment is enacted each year as a rider to budget bills, specifying that the appropriations cannot be used for elective abortions.


Pro-life groups criticized Becerra for his answers on abortion.


His answer on partial-birth abortion should “disqualify” him from the position, tweeted Democrats for Life of America. “He is far too radical to run this department. There are better choices,” the group stated.


The pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List tweeted “Mr. Becerra, you’re applying for the top health job in the nation. You don’t get to make up imaginary terms like ‘future baby’.”


Other pro-life groups have criticized Becerra’s record on abortion, noting that as California attorney general, he prosecuted pro-life activist David Daleiden and enforced a state universal abortion coverage mandate; the mandate affected even Catholic religious, forcing them to provide abortion coverage for employees. Becerra also defended a state law that required crisis pregnancy centers to advertise for abortions.


The HHS Office for Civil Rights twice found Becerra and California in violation of federal conscience laws; when the office gave Becerra 30 days to comply with conscience laws back in Jan., 2020, Becerra refused. The agency eventually said it would withhold $200 million in Medicaid funds to California, as a result of the state’s violation of federal law.


When the Trump administration granted broad religious and moral exemptions to the HHS contraceptive mandate in 2017, Becerra sued; the lawsuit pushed the Little Sisters of the Poor to go back to court to defend their religious exemption to the mandate.


During the pandemic, Becerra pushed the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to liberalize its regulations of the abortion pill regimen.


Becerra was asked on Tuesday about his efforts to push the FDA to allow for remote prescription of the abortion pill regimen during COVID.


In response to Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.), Becerra said that his letter to the FDA “was to make sure that all Americans had access to the care they needed without needing to worry about COVID becoming a danger.”


He led other state attorneys general in pushing for coverage of “gender-affirming treatment,” in October.



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Biden taps supporter of contraceptive mandate to HHS position

January 19, 2021 CNA Daily News 12

Washington D.C., Jan 19, 2021 / 10:25 am (CNA).- President-elect Joe Biden will nominate a supporter of the contraceptive mandate to a top position at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), he announced on Tuesday.


On Tuesday, Biden announced that he would nominate Dr. Rachel Levine, a biological man identifying as a transgender woman who has served as Pennsylvania’s health secretary since 2017, to be HHS Assistant Secretary for Health. Before serving as Pennsylvania’s health secretary, Levine served as the state’s physician general.


Levine has been outspoken on social issues, supporting gender-transition surgery and the contraceptive mandate while opposing a proposed 20-week abortion ban.


Levine’s nomination to HHS, along with that of Health Secretary nominee Xavier Becerra, signals that social issues could be priorities at the agency for the next several years. These might include pro-LGBTQ policies, funding of abortion providers, and religious freedom conflicts with Catholic organizations.


Regarding the Obama-era HHS contraceptive mandate, Levine in 2017 called it “immoral and unethical” to allow for religious exemptions to the mandate. Hundreds of non-profits and businesses—including the Little Sisters of the Poor—had objected to the mandate and the Obama administration’s opt-out process for objecting non-profits.


After the Trump administration announced in 2017 that religious employers and other organizations morally opposed to the contraceptive mandate could receive exemptions from it, Levine issued a sharp statement in opposition.


“It is immoral and unethical to give any employer the ability to take away access to health care from an entire gender,” Levine said as Pennsylvania’s acting health secretary, in 2017. “We cannot allow women’s health to be reduced to one issue or be jeopardized in any way.”


Levine also wrote an op-ed against the Trump administration’s reversal of Obama-era rules on transgender accommodation.


In Feb., 2017, the Trump administration said it would stop defending the Obama administration’s transgender bathroom policy in court; the policy had directed schools to allow students to use gender-specific bathrooms according to their gender identity, and not their biological sex.


In an op-ed for the Patriot-News, Levine wrote that “[t]he decision by the Trump administration to roll back the most basic protections for transgender and gender expansive youth is heartbreaking.”


“To Pennsylvania’s transgender and gender expansive youth and their families who are worried or concerned, I want you to know that Governor Wolf’s administration has your back,” Pennsylvania’s then-physician general wrote.


In 2016, Levine spoke out against a 20-week abortion ban that criminalized abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy except in cases where the mother’s life was in danger. The bill also banned the “dilation and evacuation” abortion procedure.


Levine said at the time that the bill “punishes women whose pregnancies have complications.”


“Women and their families, when faced with a devastating diagnosis of a significant fetal anomaly, have the right to make the decision which is appropriate for them, in consultation with their doctors,” Levine said.


Levine’s family moved their mother out of a personal care home early in the COVID-19 pandemic, because of the high spread of the virus; the decision invited some media scrutiny.


Levine was also questioned for the state’s policy of requiring nursing homes to accept recovering COVID patients from hospitals, although the state health secretary responded that asymptomatic staff at the homes—not patients discharged from hospitals—were the primary spreaders of the virus there.


If Levine is confirmed to HHS, along with Becerra, they together could craft policy to influence a number of issues including abortion, gender-transition surgery, and the contraceptive mandate.  


While California’s attorney general, Becerra fought aggressively in favor of an abortion coverage mandate that religious employers were not exempt from, and continued the prosecution of pro-life activist David Daleiden.


If confirmed as Health Secretary, Becerra—a Catholic—could reignite a number of Obama-era policies that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and other Catholic groups were opposed to.


These might include resurrecting court battles with the Little Sisters of the Poor and other Catholic groups that opposed the Obama administration’s procedure by which to “opt out” of the contraceptive mandate. The groups said that the policy still required them to provide coverage for contraceptives through their employee health plans, which they morally objected to.


Other HHS policies could include re-imposing the full transgender mandate—a requirement that doctors perform gender-transition surgery upon the referral of a mental health professional—and various requirements of religious groups that receive HHS grants, such as adoption agencies having to match children with same-sex couples.