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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 during a heated exchange with Indiana Republican Representative Jim Banks on Wednesday.

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

“Do you concede that partial birth abortion, as defined in US Code 18, Section 1531, is illegal and punishable by fine, imprisonment, or both?” The banks asked.

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

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“Do you agree that partial abortion is illegal under the law? Banks in a hurry.

“Under the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, women have reproductive rights that they have a right to have enforced and that they have a right to have enforced by the government. I will do whatever my best to make sure women’s rights and reproductive care are upheld,” Becerra replied.

“So I take it no, you’re not conceding that’s the law,” Banks said.

“I gave you the answer,” Becerra said.

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

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

Becerra has a habit of denying the existence of the American ban on partial abortions. He claimed in a 2021 hearing before the same committee that “there is no law that specifically deals with the term ‘partial birth abortion.’

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This is wrong, because Congress passed the Partial Abortion Ban Act in 2003 and President George W. Bush signed it. Becerra himself was at the time a congressman representing California. He voted against the bill.

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