WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden’s pick for health secretary is taking heat from Republicans for his actions in support of abortion rights. They want to define him — and the new administration — as out of the mainstream.
The nomination of Xavier Becerra faces a key vote Wednesday in the Senate Finance committee. It’s a test, too, for national groups opposed to abortion, trying to deny a president who favors abortion rights his choice to run the Department of Health and Human Services.
Becerra is paying a price for defending, as California attorney general, some of the nation’s most liberal laws and policies on abortion rights.
“It goes to show that California abortion policies are progressive enough that being associated with them is something that anti-abortion lawmakers want to make disqualifying for a Cabinet position,” said Mary Ziegler, a law professor at Florida State University, who specializes in the legal history of reproduction.
Nationally, the abortion issue appears in flux. Lawmakers in 19 state legislatures have introduced almost 50 bills this year to ban most or all abortions, according to the nonpartisan Guttmacher Institute. In South Carolina, Republican Gov. Henry McMaster signed a measure banning most abortions, though it was almost immediately suspended by a federal judge.
Abortion opponents are hoping that litigation over a state law will reach the Supreme Court, now clearly leaning to the right. It could serve as a vehicle for overturning the Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion. Yet despite the surge of state activity, the underlying political reality is tricky.
During the 2020 election, about 6 in 10 voters said abortion should be legal in most or all cases, according to VoteCast, an in-depth survey of the U.S. electorate conducted by NORC at The University of Chicago for The Associated Press. Roughly the same percentage of Republicans said abortion should usually be legal, the survey showed.
Becerra, 63, was a reliable Democratic vote for abortion rights during more than 20 years representing a Los Angeles-area district in the U.S. House. But he wasn’t a leading voice. His issues were immigration, access to health care and education.
Perceptions changed after Becerra was appointed California attorney general in 2017. He sued the Trump administration over its restrictions on abortion, although his office says that only four of the 124 lawsuits Becerra filed against the previous administration dealt with abortion, birth control or conscience rights — key issues for religious conservatives. Becerra went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to defend a California law that required crisis pregnancy centers to provide information about abortion — and lost.
Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA.) says he will oppose Becerra nomination: ““Becerra has a long history of backing policies that are outside of the American mainstream. This includes, but is not limited to: a complete government takeover of our health care system, partial birth abortion…”
Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) says he will oppose Becerra nomination:— Alex Bolton (@alexanderbolton) March 3, 2021
"Becerra has a long history of backing policies that are outside of the American mainstream. This includes, but is not limited to: a complete government takeover of our health care system, partial birth abortion…
Source: AP News contributed to this article.