The Corner

Politics & Policy

Xavier Becerra and Partial-Birth Abortion

Xavier Becerra, President Joe Biden’s nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services, testifies during his confirmation hearing at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., February 23, 2021. (Leigh Vogel/Reuters Pool)

During yesterday’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, California attorney general and HHS nominee Xavier Becerra faced scrutiny over one of his most radical political positions.

As a congressman, Becerra voted against a federal ban on partial-birth abortion, a procedure used late in pregnancy whereby a viable unborn child is partially delivered, his or her skull is punctured and evacuated, and the dead infant is then delivered intact. The medical term for this procedure is an intact dilation and extraction, and despite decades of pushing for its legality, its supporters have yet to demonstrate that it is ever medically necessary for a mother’s health.

After more than a decade of fights in Congress and two Supreme Court cases considering bans on this procedure, a federal ban on partial-birth abortion was allowed to stand. (It’s worth noting that the ban passed Congress with the support of many Democrats, including Senators Pat Leahy, Harry Reid, and Joe Biden.) During the most recent congressional debate over the bill, Becerra voted against it, and during the hearing yesterday, Utah senator Mitt Romney questioned him about that vote. Here’s the heart of their exchange:

Romney: Most people agree that partial-birth abortion is awful. You voted against a ban on partial-birth abortion. Why?

Becerra: I understand that people have different deeply held beliefs on this issue. And I respect that. As attorney general, my job has been to follow the law and make sure that others are following the law. . . . I understand that we may not always agree on where to go, but I think we can find some common ground on these issues because everyone wants to make sure that if you have an opportunity, you’re going to have a healthy life. . . . I hope to be able to work with you and others to be able to reach that common ground on so many issues.

Romney: I think we can reach common ground on many issues. But on partial-birth abortion, it sounds like we’re not going to reach common ground there.

Becerra, in other words, has no explanation as to why he opposed a ban on this heinous and medically unnecessary procedure, nor does he appear to have any plans to reverse his position on it to align with public opinion and mainstream medicine.

In defense of Becerra, NARAL president Ilyse Hogue insisted on Twitter that “‘partial birth abortion’ is not a medical term; it’s a fabrication of the right wing.”

This response is typical of abortion activists, who would rather play rhetorical games than confront the reality of what they support. As I’ve written several times for NRO, the specific label we append to any particular abortion procedure matters far less than the truth of what that procedure does. Those who pivot to terminological debates generally do so because they have something to hide.

It matters very little whether we refer to this procedure by the far more explanatory term “partial-birth abortion” or the clinical phrase “intact dilation and extraction.” What matters is what occurs in that procedure and, in the case of Becerra, what it says about him that he supports it.


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