Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Secretary Becerra on Partial Birth Abortion Ban

Today, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra testified during a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee Subcommittee on Health on the Department's annual budget for next year. (Full recording)

During the hearing, Secretary Becerra responded to questions about the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 (18 U.S. Code § 1531) by initially denying that the law existed and then by sidestepping further questions about whether he would enforce it.

The law defines partial-birth abortion as “deliberately and intentionally vaginally deliver[ing] a living fetus until, in the case of a head-first presentation, the entire fetal head is outside the body of the mother, or, in the case of breech presentation, any part of the fetal trunk past the navel is outside the body of the mother, for the purpose of performing an overt act that the person knows will kill the partially delivered living fetus.”

The Supreme Court upheld the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act in Gonzales v. Carhart (2007).

Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) noted that Secretary Becerra has stated many times that he would uphold the law and has been asked if that included a commitment to uphold the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act.

During his response to Rep. Bilirakis, the Secretary said, “…there is no law that deals specifically with the term partial birth abortion.”

Rep. John Joyce (R-PA) followed up: “It didn’t seem clear that you understood what my colleague Mr. Bilirakis meant by the term ‘Partial-Birth abortion.’ …Section 1531 of Title 18 USC is literally titled, ‘Partial-Birth Abortions prohibited.’” Rep. Joyce asked the Secretary to clarify whether he recognized that Partial-Birth abortions were prohibited under the law.

The Secretary responded by dodging the question claiming “partial-birth abortion” is not a medical term, as if a medical lexicon is the gatekeeper over whether Congress has the authority or ability to make laws that punish evil in the practice of medicine.

Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) provided additional follow up: “You seem to indicate that you actually do not support or recognize the statute on Partial-Birth Abortions. Can we answer that more clearly now?”

No direct support or recognition was expressed.

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