In a recent committee hearing, the Biden administration's Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra was put on the spot by Republican Senator Steve Daines of Montana, who asked a simple question: "Is partial-birth abortion legal or illegal in the United States?" Sec. Becerra dodged the question multiple times, instead referring to women's abortion rights under Roe v. Wade.
"Title 18 of the U.S. Code Section 1531 signed into law in 2003 states that partial-birth abortion is illegal. Do you agree with that?" Sen. Daines asked Sec. Becerra, as reported by Christian Headlines. The secretary refused to answer the question, saying instead that "a woman has a right in this country to exercise reproductive choice, and we will defend that."
"My question is, is partial-birth abortion legal or illegal? It's not a trick question or a complicated question," Sen. Daines pressed again and once more, Sec. Becerra defaulted to Roe v. Wade. This is not the first time Sec. Becerra got entangled with affirming partial-birth abortion laws.
Politifact reported that during a May 12 hearing, Republican Representative Gus Bilirakis asked Sec. Becerra if he agreed that "partial-birth abortion is illegal." Sec. Becerra denied its existence.
"There is no medical term like partial-birth abortion, so I'd probably have to ask you what you mean by that to describe what is allowed by the law," Sec. Becerra replied.
Partial-birth abortion refers to a late-term procedure that is medically known as "dilation and extraction" or "dilation and evacuation," in which a pregnant woman partially delivers the unborn child "for the purpose of performing an overt act that the person knows will kill the partially delivered living fetus," the law states.
The Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act was passed in 2003, during which Sec. Becerra was representing a California district. He voted against the measure alongside 132 out of 205 Democrats who were in the chamber at the time. When it was challenged in 2007, the Supreme Court upheld the law.
Sen. Daines took to Twitter on Friday to share a video clip of Biden's HHS Secretary refusing to acknowledge the law banning partial-birth abortion and highlighting once more that the law makes partial-birth abortions illegal and questioning why the HHS Secretary could not just recognize that fact.
Sec. Becerra's firm and repeated denial on the existing partial-birth abortion laws in the U.S. earned criticism from other lawmakers. The National Catholic Register reported that when Sec. Becerra argued that most lawmakers would not be able to provide "medical definition of what partial-birth abortion is," Republican Representative John Joyce, who is a doctor, fired back that "As a physician myself Mr. Secretary, I think I clearly understand what a partial-birth abortion is."
Republican Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma expressed how "absolutely horrifying" it was to have a "top health official" not know "the laws he swore to uphold and protect." He questioned Sec. Becerra's ability to uphold the law on partial-birth abortion and the Hyde amendment.