Pro-lifers, keep an eye on HHS Nominee Becerra

President-elect Joe Biden has announced his intention to nominate Xavier Becerra to be the next Secretary of Health and Human Services. Becerra, currently California’s Attorney General, has a curious history when it comes to recognizing the free speech and conscience rights of his pro-life neighbors.

(I am not going to engage in a debate over who won the election. I think it’s unwise to pretend that Mr. Biden won’t be calling the shots as of Inauguration Day.)

Becerra succeeded Kamala Harris as California AG, after Harris was elected to the U.S. Senate. She is now vice-president-elect.

U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services logo
hhs.gov

As Attorney General, Becerra followed Harris’s lead in two cases of particular interest to pro-life Americans.

The NIFLA case

In 2015, California legislators passed a law they dubbed the “Reproductive FACT Act.” It targeted pro-life pregnancy care centers, and their workers and volunteers, by requiring them to to provide information on how to obtain state-funded abortions. There were penalties for noncompliance.

The law prompted a lawsuit from an umbrella organization for several pregnancy care centers, National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA). Harris and later Becerra represented California in defending the law.

The lawsuit made it to the Supreme Court, which in 2018’s NIFLA v. Becerra decision sided with NIFLA on a 5-4 vote.

NIFLA defenders summarize the decision

Attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom represented NIFLA. Writing about the decision, ADF’s Maureen Collins wrote about the effects of the ruling. “Forcing someone to speak against their beliefs not only goes against the freedom of speech, it goes against plain common sense. Under this particular law, the very pregnancy centers dedicated to giving women alternatives to abortion were compelled by the state to advertise for abortion….The Supreme Court’s decision in NIFLA is simple. It protects the free speech of those with the viewpoint that women should have many choices other than state-sponsored abortion.”

Becket, another law firm dedicated to defending religious liberty, filed an amicus brief supporting NIFLA’s position. In a summary of the case, Becket attorneys wrote about the case’s importance. “The First Amendment protects speakers from being punished for advancing viewpoints not shared by the government. On issues as divisive as abortion, it is vital that the government not silence one side of the debate….Private organizations, including those with a religious foundation, must be free to operate in the public square according to their beliefs.”

Center for Medical Progress prosecution

The undercover journalism of David Daleiden, Sandra Merritt, and the Center for Medical Progress project revealed the commerce in fetal body parts carried out by some Planned Parenthood affiliates. In California, that led to prosecution – not of Planned Parenthood, but of Daleiden, who has been fighting criminal charges there since 2016.

David Daleiden
David Daleiden (photo by Ellen Kolb)

The prosecutors: first Kamala Harris, then Xavier Becerra. Daleiden is facing multiple felony counts under California’s illegal-taping law. Undercover journalists, take note. Becerra, with taxpayer dollars, keeps the prosecution going even now, as 2020 draws to a close.

The Thomas More Society is representing Daleiden. Its website provides extensive background on the case as it has developed so far, with no apologies for the tone of zealous advocacy.

Confirmation required

Becerra’s nomination as HHS Secretary depends on a confirmation vote to be held in the U.S. Senate in 2021. If the Senate were to tie on Becerra’s nomination, the tie-breaking vote would be cast by none other than Kamala Harris.

Post header image: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services headquarters, Hubert H. Humphrey Building, Washington DC. Photo by Carol M. Highsmith, from the Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

PP Supports Abortion Insurance Mandate Bill

Here’s a report on SB 486 in Seacoast Online includes this quote from a Planned Parenthood spokeswoman regarding the bill to mandate abortion coverage within any health insurance policy that covers maternity care. Public hearing is February 18 in the Senate Commerce Committee, room 100, at the State House in Concord.

“The Reproductive Health Parity Act builds on the progress New Hampshire has made in recent years to ensure that Granite Staters’ insurance covers the health care they need, including abortion care,” said Sabrina Dunlap, vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England in New Hampshire. “For those facing an unintended pregnancy, or changed circumstances during a planned pregnancy, access to timely, affordable and respectful abortion care is an essential component of reproductive health care. Passage of SB 486 will continue New Hampshire’s long history of protecting the right for patients to make their own health care decisions.”

Final “Exemptions” Announced to HHS/Obamacare Mandate

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is issuing two final rules revising the Obamacare contraception mandate, in an effort to relieve those with religious and moral objections from compelled contraceptive insurance coverage. Not a moment too soon, either. Read Wesley J. Smith’s summary of the rules here.

HHS describes the rules:

The first of today’s final rules provides an exemption from the contraceptive coverage mandate to entities that object to services covered by the mandate on the basis of sincerely held religious beliefs. The second final rule provides protections to nonprofit organizations and small businesses that have non-religious moral convictions opposing services covered by the mandate.

The religious and moral exemptions provided by these rules also apply to institutions of education, issuers, and individuals.

The Departments are not extending the moral exemption to publicly traded businesses, or either exemption to government entities.

I’ve written at length about the Obamacare mandate that contraceptives for women be treated as “preventive” health care. The mandate was and is wrong on at least two levels: its assumption that women are broken and need to be fixed, and its attack on the First Amendment rights of employers like the Little Sisters of the Poor and Hobby Lobby who have religious or moral objections to helping provide or procure contraceptives, abortifacient or otherwise, for employees.

The new rules may be as close to a solution as can be achieved, with exemptions to the mandate now much broader than before. But there shouldn’t need to be exemptions, because the mandate shouldn’t exist.

President Trump’s Administration is right to recognize the threat to religious liberty posed by the mandate. But this president is no more likely than the previous one to back away from the public policy that treats women as things that need fixing, as though women’s fertility were a disease.