HHS Secretary Becerra refuses to admit partial-birth abortions are illegal in House testimony

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Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra refused to admit that partial-birth abortions are illegal in a heated exchange with Republican Indiana Rep. Jim Banks on Wednesday.

Becerra appeared before the House Committee on Education and Labor to discuss the policy priorities of his department. Banks pressed Becerra on whether his department would aggressively enforce the federal ban on partial-birth abortions, but the secretary refused to acknowledge the ban.

“Do you concede that partial-birth abortion, as defined in 18 U.S. code, section 1531, is illegal and punishable by fine, imprisonment or both?” Banks asked.

“Congressman, I’ll try to respond to this as best I can,” Becerra began. “And that’s to say that having been a former attorney general, I know how important it is to not only follow the law, but enforce it. As secretary of HHS I will not only comply with the law, but enforce it, and when it comes to issues that sometimes we hold different and sometimes very deeply held beliefs I will respect where people’s opinion is, but my job is to make sure I’m enforcing the law.” 

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“Do you concede that partial birth abortion is illegal per the law?” Banks pressed.

“Under the Supreme Court decision in Roe vs. Wade, women have reproductive rights that they are entitled to enforce and that they are entitled to have the government respect. I will do everything I can to make sure a woman’s rights and reproductive care are defended,” Becerra responded.

“So I take that as no, you don’t concede that that is the law,” Banks stated.

“I gave you the answer,” Becerra said.

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Banks then repeatedly pressed Becerra to answer the “simple question,” repeatedly cutting the secretary off as he began vague answers.

Rep. Jim Banks, right, and Rep. Jim Jordan during a news conference at the Capitol on July 21, 2021.

Rep. Jim Banks, right, and Rep. Jim Jordan during a news conference at the Capitol on July 21, 2021.
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Becerra has a history of denying that the U.S. ban on partial birth abortions exists. He claimed during a 2021 hearing before the same committee that “there is no law that deals specifically with the term “partial-birth abortion.”

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This is false, as Congress passed the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act in 2003 and President George W. Bush signed it into law. Becerra himself was a sitting member of Congress at the time representing California. He voted against the bill.

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