OLIVIA SUMMERS, ACLJ
President Biden has acted swiftly to undo many of the pro-life actions that were taken by the Trump Administration. But none may be more detrimental to the cause of protecting the unborn than his nominee to be the next Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra.
In just the first few weeks of his presidency, President Biden, through Executive order, revoked the Mexico City Policy – a Reagan-era rule that President Trump expanded and renamed Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance (PLGHA) – and is now allowing U.S. tax dollars to be given to overseas abortion providers.
On the same day, President Biden issued a memorandum ordering the Secretary of HHS to “review the Title X Rule and any other regulations governing the Title X program,” and to “suspend, revise, or rescind” any that “impose undue restrictions on the use of Federal funds or women’s access to [abortion].” The section of Title X under review is the section that President Trump’s Administration accurately identified as expressly restricting Federal funds from being “appropriated [to] be used in programs where abortion is a method of family planning.” In other words, Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers can’t receive Federal grants. When President Trump directed HHS to implement the rule clarifying the application of Title X, the ACLJ submitted a legal comment in support of the rule.
The new Administration’s relentless attack on pro-life policies is just beginning, as the man who President Biden has tapped to fill the position of Secretary of HHS is one of the staunchest abortion advocates he could have chosen – Xavier Becerra, a man whose career is defined by his radical views on abortion.
Xavier Becerra, who has no medical training or experience in public health, is currently Attorney General (AG) of California. Prior to obtaining his AG position, he served in Congress for 24 years. During that time, Becerra received a 100% rating on his voting record from abortion lobbyists such as Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America. Among other things, he voted against a ban on partial-birth abortion, voted against making it a crime to hurt an unborn child during the commission of another crime, voted yes on allowing and expanding human embryonic stem cell research, and supported taxpayer-funded abortions.
Becerra became California’s Attorney General in 2017 and has repeatedly used his position to advocate for abortion. For instance, he continued Kamala Harris’ work in prosecuting undercover pro-life journalists on behalf of Planned Parenthood. Becerra charged them with 15 felonies, and it was the first time anyone in the state has been criminally prosecuted for allegedly violating CA’s video recording law.
He has headed several other lawsuits fighting to expand abortion. In fact, he boasted at one point that by September 2020 he had brought 100 anti-Trump lawsuits, such as:
- LivingWell Medical Clinic v. Becerra
In this case, the ACLJ filed a lawsuit against Becerra and the state of California concerning the constitutionality of the 2015 California FACT Act which required pro-life pregnancy centers to promote a government-dictated message motivated by pro-abortion ideology. The ACLJ filed suit against the state of California on behalf of three pro-life centers before the law went into effect. We sought a preliminary injunction and argued that by adopting this law, the state of California would compel private speech without satisfying strict scrutiny. After a federal district court and Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against our clients, we appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. In a related case, NIFLA v. Becerra, the Supreme Court held that California cannot force crisis-pregnancy centers to post signs about state-sponsored abortion services. In the wake of the NIFLA v. Becerra ruling, the Supreme Court granted our certiorari petition, reversed, and remanded the case. The federal district court then ordered that Xavier Becerra, as the Attorney General of California, be permanently enjoined from enforcing the FACT Act.
- California v. Little Sisters of the Poor
Becerra led the legal battle in California v. Little Sisters of the Poor, a lawsuit against a group of Catholic nuns devoted to helping the elderly. The Little Sisters of the Poor sought an exemption from the ObamaCare requirement that employers provide services such as abortion pills in their employees’ health care plans. Becerra challenged that exemption in court, demanding that the Little Sisters of the Poor be required to provide abortifacients and contraceptives to employees.
- Reproductive Health Services v. Planned Parenthood of St. Louis
Becerra led a multistate coalition in filing an amicus curiae brief in Reproductive Health Services v. Planned Parenthood of St. Louis arguing that abortion bans in Missouri were unconstitutional. The particular laws he sought to make illegal were the “Reason Ban,” which prohibits abortions based on race, gender, or abnormality, and “Gestational Age Bans,” which prohibits abortions after eight weeks of gestation. Ultimately the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri Central Division granted a preliminary injunction on both bans. Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region is the last remaining health care center in the state of Missouri that still performs abortions. The injunction achieved, with the help of Becerra, will aid in further sustaining the last abortion center in Missouri.
- California v. Azar
In California v. Azar, the ACLJ successfully helped thwart Becerra’s efforts to further his pro-abortion agenda. Becerra challenged the “Protect Life” regulations which prohibit the use of Title X funds from performing, promoting, referring for, or supporting abortion as a form of family planning. Becerra demanded an injunction against the pro-life regulations. However, his pro-abortion agenda was thwarted by the efforts of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and multiple organizations, including the ACLJ. The ACLJ filed two amicus curiae briefs in support of the “Protect Life” federal regulations. We argued in our briefs that the district court’s holding completely disregarded an earlier Supreme Court decision which upheld nearly identical regulations. Furthermore, Becerra’s legal challenge was nothing more than a mere policy disagreement. Ultimately, the Ninth Circuit Court agreed with the ACLJ’s arguments and held in a 7-4 decision that Becerra’ legal claims failed due to the precedent established by the United States Supreme Court. Additionally, the Court emphasized how the federal district courts and the plaintiffs failed to acknowledge Congress’s authority to dictate how federal funds are spent.
- In January 2020, Becerra led a multistate coalition in filing an amicus brief in support of a lawsuit challenging four pro-life Arkansas laws;
- In December 2019, Becerra joined a coalition of 22 attorneys general in filing an amicus brief supporting a constitutional challenge to a Louisiana law requiring abortion providers to maintain hospital admitting privileges;
- In October 2019, Attorney General Becerra led a coalition of 20 attorneys general in filing an amicus brief challenging Mississippi’s 15-week ban on abortion in Jackson Women’s Health Organization, et al. v. State Health Officer of the Mississippi Department of Health, et al.;
- In April 2019, Becerra led a coalition of 22 attorneys general in filing an amicus brief in support of a lawsuit filed by Jackson Women’s Health Organization in Mississippi;
- In September 2018, Becerra led a coalition of 18 attorneys general in filing an amicus brief challenging a pro-life law in Ohioin the case Preterm-Cleveland, et al. v. Himes – another case we engaged in for life at the ACLJ. Joining AG Becerra were the attorneys general of Illinois, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia.
Furthermore, Becerra utilized the COVID-19 pandemic to lead the charge in demanding that the FDA relax regulations on abortion pills so that access to abortion would be expanded. The ACLJ responded quickly to the outrageous attempt to exploit a public crisis and expand abortion at the cost of women’s safety, and we sent our own legal letter to the FDA opposing his attempt.
Moreover, when the Trump Administration’s HHS revised the Title X rule, mentioned above, to explicitly bar federally funded contraception clinics from encouraging abortion, Becerra led one of the lawsuits against the rule, even calling it a “gag order.” The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the rule in 2020; and upon losing the case, Becerra vowed to “continue to fight for comprehensive reproductive healthcare, including . . . abortion.” He has now filed a petition for certiorari asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear an appeal in this case.
Given his track record, if Becerra were confirmed, he would quite likely be the most pro-abortion HHS Secretary ever. And as Secretary of HHS, Becerra would be in position to do exactly what he has promised to do – expand abortion.
While the ACLJ is disappointed in the Biden Administration’s blatant attack on life, we are not at all surprised – and we are more than prepared to fight back. We anticipate that if he is indeed confirmed as Secretary of HHS, Becerra will attempt to change the Title X rules in favor of abortion providers, and we will engage that fight. That’s just one of the many battles we see coming – there will certainly be more.
As the Senate confirmation hearings for Becerra loom, we will continue to keep you up to date.
Used with the permission of the American Center for Law and Justice.
Olivia Summers is Associate Counsel for Public Policy with the ACLJ, focusing on pro-life advocacy and protecting the freedoms of speech and religion. Olivia earned her Juris Doctor from Regent University School of Law. While at Regent, Olivia clerked for the ACLJ and served as a board member for Regent Journal of International Law, was a member of the Honor Council, and was actively involved in Regent Students for Life. In addition, Olivia spent one summer interning at the ECLJ where she gained experience in international law and human rights issues. Prior to attending Regent, Olivia earned her B.A. in History from the University of Wyoming. Olivia joined the ACLJ full-time after graduating from Regent. She is admitted to practice in Virginia and Washington D.C.