Mary Rose Short
Despite months of promising to unite the nation and to be a president both for those who voted for him and those who didn’t, Joe Biden and his administration—to almost no one’s surprise—are moving quickly to force everyone to bow down to the “progressive” agenda. Biden’s appointments to key positions are extreme partisans with a disdain for those who disagree with them.
Undoubtedly the most critical of such positions for both pro-life and pro-abortion advocates is that of Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). HHS is a gargantuan federal department, overseeing Title X “family planning funding;” funding of international population programs; the Centers for Disease Control (CDC); the FDA; Medicaid and Medicare; the resettlement of refugees and unaccompanied alien minors—some of whom request abortions while being detained; and a host of other agencies and programs.
In December, as Biden fumbled his way through his announcement of Xavier “Bacharia” as his nominee to head the “Department of Health and Education Services,” he didn’t mention that Xavier Becerra has no experience in health care and is best known for his partisan legal battle against the Little Sisters of the Poor. Rather, Biden touted Becerra as a “world class expert” who would help the United States “heal as a nation.”
In fact, Becerra is a self-described “pit-bull” when it comes to fighting for—and suppressing opposition to—abortion, gender ideology, and a host of issues that divide Americans. He spent 24 years in Congress representing a heavily Democrat district and, in his confirmation committee hearing for his appointment as California’s attorney general, he lamented the difficulties in passing legislation in Washington D.C., where Republicans held some power. He hoped to have no such trials while enforcing laws passed by California’s effectively one-party legislature and assured the Democrat members of the committee that he was ready to “charge forward” with their agenda: “I intend to push this as far as I can.”
While attorney general, Becerra brought over 100 lawsuits against the Trump administration, fought the Little Sisters of the Poor and other religious organizations seeking an exemption from the Obamacare contraceptive coverage mandate, and prosecuted pregnancy resource clinics who refused to comply with California’s FACT Act, which mandated that pro-life clinics advertise state-funded abortions. Regarding the FACT Act, he said that the consequences for a woman might be “dire” if the pregnancy centers did not post information promoting free abortions.
Not surprisingly, Becerra has said that he believes that organizations, faith-based or otherwise, have no conscience rights.
Planned Parenthood gives him a 100% rating and called him a “relentless advocate for reproductive rights.” Becerra has said that laws restricting abortion are “outrageous.”
In addition to running the federal health agencies, Health and Human Services (HHS) is responsible for enforcing dozens of federal conscience-protection statutes. Under the Trump Administration, HHS’s Office of Civil Rights opened a new Conscience and Religious Freedom division to field complaints and conduct investigations of conscience violations.
“That was something that was unique—that hadn’t been done in previous administrations,” said Melanie Israel, a research associate in the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society at The Heritage Foundation. “It will be interesting going forward to see if that office continues to be a fixture at HHS.”
Part of the enforcement mechanism is publicizing the conscience rights statutes. “People don’t know that they can file a complaint of discrimination if they don’t know what their rights are,” Israel said. “That’s been something that this division has been working very hard on for the last four years, to make sure that organizations know what’s required of them, that people know what their rights are.”
Under the Obama Administration, the HHS Office of Civil Rights took years to respond to complaints – often before finally announcing its conclusion that no violation had occurred. It is likely that Becerra will take HHS back along a similar path, deciding that those who object to participating in abortion or other destructive practices are themselves behaving discriminatorily, rather than that they are being discriminated against for their beliefs.
In the coming years, just as it did under the Obama Administration, Life Legal will legally defend individuals who are being coerced to violate their pro-life convictions. We will continue to fight on behalf of religious organizations—yes, those which Becerra believes have no religious or conscience rights—who object to participating in or providing abortion. Life Legal’s efforts on behalf of various entities in California, which were being forced to provide abortion insurance coverage in violation of their religious beliefs, led last year to HHS declaring that California had forfeited millions of dollars in federal funding.
Life Legal is also fighting to hold onto pro-life gains made during the Trump Administration. Last year, Life Legal submitted a white paper to HHS about the common phenomenon of premature babies being left to die simply because they have not reached the gestational age that the hospital guidelines assign as the threshold to receive treatment. Life Legal’s efforts led both to investigations and enforcement by HHS against hospitals that had denied treatment to newborns, and also to an executive order by President Trump that reinforced the department’s actions and directed it to prioritize research and training that would improve the outcomes of premature babies.
Letting babies die without being assessed for the possibility of treatment is a violation of federal funding statutes, and Life Legal will continue to push HHS to issue guidance to healthcare institutions to assess all babies, regardless of gestational age and regardless of the circumstances of birth. Even babies who are born alive during abortion attempts should not be left to die. That should be a non-issue.
Life Legal is working to advance legislation that would prohibit removing life-sustaining treatment—and certainly nutrition and hydration—from patients, unless specifically directed to by an advance health care directive.
Under the Trump Administration, some pro-life pregnancy clinics were able to apply to HHS for Title X family planning funding. Becerra will most certainly try to strip that funding and Life Legal will work on behalf of the pregnancy clinics. Life Legal is also working in other states to help pregnancy clinics retain state-distributed HHS funding.
As HHS and the rest of the Biden Administration ramps up its intolerance of pro-lifers, Life Legal will be fighting them every step of the way.