Becerra Repeatedly Denies ‘Partial-Birth Abortion’ Ban Exists During Hearing

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During a congressional hearing Wednesday, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra refused multiple times to acknowledge that current federal law outlaws partial-birth abortions, at one point claiming that no such law exists, using semantics as his rationale.

“Do you agree that partial-birth abortion is illegal?” Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) asked Becerra during a hearing of the House Energy & Commerce Committee Subcommittee on Health to discuss the 2022 HHS budget.

“There is no medical term like ‘partial-birth abortion,’ and so I would probably have to ask you what you mean by that to describe what is allowed by the law,” Becerra responded. “But Roe v. Wade is very clear, it’s settled precedent, and a woman has a right to make decisions about her reproductive health, and we will make sure that we enforce the law and protect those rights.”

“There is no law that deals specifically with the term ‘partial-birth abortion,’” the HHS secretary added.

In 2003, President George W. Bush signed the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act into law, which prohibits abortions in which the abortionist “deliberately and intentionally vaginally delivers 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” and kills the partially-delivered living fetus. The Supreme Court upheld the ban on the late-term abortion procedure in 2007.

Later in the hearing, Rep. John Joyce (R-PA), who is a physician practicing dermatology, again pressed Becerra on the issue of partial-birth abortion.

“It didn’t seem clear that you understood what my colleague Mr. Bilirakis meant by the term ‘partial-birth abortion,’” Joyce began.

“Section 1531 of Title 18 U.S. Code is literally titled, ‘Partial Birth Abortions Prohibited.’ That statute very clearly defines this inhumane procedure,” Joyce said. “So now with that clarification, could you please recognize that that does exist in statute, and I would ask you, do you agree that this law is correct?”

Becerra responded that while “the term partial-birth abortion may be recognized in politics and by politicians,” it is “not a medically recognized term.” However, “dilation and extraction,” the procedure used in surgical abortions, is recognized in the medical community, Becerra said.

The medical term for the procedure that “partial-birth abortion” commonly refers to is “intact dilation and extraction.”

Becerra also claimed that the dilation and extraction procedure used in late-stage abortions is employed “to protect the health and life of that woman.” However, some late-term abortions are performed for other reasons, including serious fetal diagnoses, the mother’s mental health, and disruptive life events.

Joyce pressed Becerra several more times on whether he recognized that partial-birth abortion is prohibited under current federal law and whether he would enforce it, and Becerra assured that he “will do everything I can to make sure we comply with precedent and the law when it comes to protecting a woman’s right to her reproductive health.”

“I know that this is a very sensitive issue for a lot of folks, but I think most medical practitioners will tell you they understand what a dilation and extraction procedure is. I doubt that most of them could give you a medical definition of what partial-birth abortion is,” Becerra said.

“As a physician myself, Mr. Secretary, I think I clearly understand what a partial-birth abortion is,” Joyce responded.

Pro-life groups criticized Becerra’s remarks on Wednesday, noting that the secretary himself voted against the partial-birth abortion ban in 2003 when he was a freshman congressman from California.

“Now the top health official in America, Becerra outright denies the existence of a law banning partial-birth abortion since 2003,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, adding that Becerra’s testimony on the matter is “standard for the most radical pro-abortion administration in history.”

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