Xavier Becerra, President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, declined to name any restriction on abortion that he would support, in response to questions from senators during his confirmation hearing on Feb. 24.
Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) said many of his constituents have written to say Becerra has taken “the most radical positions on this very important issue of life and abortion.” He then asked Becerra to name an abortion restriction that he might support, saying, “Is there any line you would draw?”
“Is there just one, just one restriction as it relates to abortion that you might support?” Daines asked.
Declining to identify any such restrictions, Becerra said he would respect all viewpoints on the issue, and that he would follow the law.
“I have tried to make sure that I am abiding by the law because, whether it is a particular restriction or whether it’s the whole idea of abortion, whether we agree or not, we have to come to some conclusion,” Becerra said. “And that’s where the law gives us a place to go.”
Daines sought to pin Becerra down to a more specific answer, listing several examples of restrictions, such as a ban on abortion based on a Down syndrome diagnosis, which he called “lethal discrimination” by abortion.
“My job will be to make sure that I am following the law,” responded Becerra, who is the attorney general of California.
In 2019, Daines cosponsored the Down Syndrome Discrimination by Abortion Prohibition Act, which sought to nationally ban abortions performed because the fetus had been diagnosed with Down syndrome.
“The act of killing an unborn baby simply because she has Down syndrome has no place in our society,” Daines said at the time. “That’s why I’m introducing this bill, because it would protect precious life from lethal discrimination by abortion.”
Both House and Senate versions of the bill remain in their respective judiciary committees, awaiting a vote.
Opponents of the bill have argued that there should be no restriction on the reasons for having an abortion.
“My patients deserve access to high-quality abortion care, and they deserve the space to make those decisions based on their values, life circumstances, support system, and faith, free of government scrutiny,” Dr. Colleen McNicholas, chief medical officer for Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis region, said in a statement. She made the remarks after a district court judge in October 2019 blocked a Missouri law banning abortions because of fetal Down syndrome.
“EVERY reason to have an abortion is a valid reason,” McNicholas added.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), asked Becerra for his thoughts about the purposefulness of administering anesthesia to babies during late-term abortions “to minimize the pain that they’re capable of experiencing.”
Becerra responded that Grassley had asked an important “but a very technical” question, and that he had moved the hearing into an area of “very deeply held beliefs where folks sometimes have differences.”
“I respect that,” he said. “What I would do as secretary is what I’ve done as the attorney general of our state, and that is I would follow the law and expect others to follow the law.”
“While we may not always see it the same in terms of how we get there on a particular issue, I would tell you that, on health care, these challenges we have to confront for the American people, so I would look forward to trying to reach that common ground with you and others,” he said.
Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said that Becerra’s attitude on abortion is significant for Republicans partly because of his record.
“It does seem like, as attorney general, you spent an inordinate amount of time and effort suing pro-life organizations like Little Sisters of the Poor, or trying to ease restrictions or expand abortion.”
Thune said Becerra would have “a big job” if confirmed as HHS secretary and asked him to provide assurances that he won’t be “fixated on expanding abortion” in that role.
“I understand Americans have different, deeply held beliefs on this particular issue and I absolutely respect that,” Becerra said.
He reiterated his hope to “find common ground” on the matter.