02.24.21

Lankford Fights for Conscience Rights in Questions to Becerra

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WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today participated in a Senate Committee on Finance hearing to consider the nomination of California Attorney General and US Representative Xavier Becerra to serve as the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS). Lankford pressed Mr. Becerra on how he plans to protect the conscience rights of Americans and ensure faith-based entities receive fair treatment from the federal government. Lankford recently joined his colleagues in a letter urging President Joe Biden to withdraw Mr. Becerra’s nomination, and Lankford openly questioned Mr. Becerra’s nomination on the Senate floor in a pro-life speech commemorating the annual March for Life.

This week, Lankford reintroduced the Conscience Protection Act to protect healthcare providers, including health insurance plans from government discrimination if they decline to participate in abortions. The bill also provides a private right of action for victims of discrimination. 

Excerpts

On enforcing existing law to protect Americans’ conscience rights in HHS

Lankford: As California Attorney General, you sued the federal government over 100 times, including multiple times dealing with issues about conscience protections that you would specifically have to now enforce on the other side of it, and so I’m trying to get some clarity on this. There’s a Conscience and Religious freedom Division at HHS. They have compiled the 25 different conscience laws that already exist in statute, that are law, and to say that HHS in the past wasn’t always consistent in enforcing those laws, but they were going to actually be consistent because they were laws on the books. So my question is: will you continue to enforce existing federal law on conscience issues when you get to HHS? And what will you do with the conscience and religious freedom division?

Becerra: …I believe deeply in religious freedom, and I will make sure that as Secretary of HHS that you will know that I will not only respect the law when it comes to these issues of religious freedom, but I will enforce them as Secretary of HHS within my department.

Lankford: So the challenge that I have in just processing through this, just some of the history there, obviously when you were attorney general you had suits that went all the way to the Supreme Court that the Supreme Court overturned. Some were decisions specifically on conscience issues, for instance the issue of the FACT Act that came out of California requiring pro-life facilities to have to post in their facility: here’s a way to get an abortion instead of having your child up for adoption, which feels very much like promoting abortion, not just providing abortions, a very different issue on that. You argued that case all the way to the Supreme Court, ultimately lost because the Supreme Court said what’s obvious to everyone: you can’t require someone to say something they disagree with. That’s a conscience issue. Another conscience issue was the Little Sisters of the Poor and other groups like that that said, ‘Hey, we don’t want to participate in abortion-related health care, and about 28,000 Californians lost their health care that fit in with their conscience, based on how you were combatting with those folks. So, help me understand the disparity between those two.

On previous administrations failing to protect conscience rights

Lankford: …This conscience issue is really important. For a health care provider who believes that a child is a child, whether they’re in the womb or whether their outside the womb, that’s a child that God created and has value and worth. It’s exceptionally important to be able to honor the conscience rights of that individually and that they not be compelled to be able to perform an abortion or participate in an assisted suicide or something where they have a conscience issue with that. And this is going to be a very significant issue that you’re going to face that in previous times administrations just ignored and did not enforce.

On equal treatment of faith-based and non-faith-based entities for federal grants and aid

Lankford: There are multiple grants and aid that’s out there that there’ll have to be decisions made over whether faith-based entities can get grants or aid at the same level as non-faith-based entities. Here’s the challenge, in some previous administrations, if you were a faith-based entity, you were not allowed to participate strictly because of your faith and the structure of that. The Supreme Court has now stepped in pretty clear decisions over the past few years to make it clear you can’t discriminate against someone on the basis of their faith. Will you make sure that the grant and the aid proposals from HHS are equal for faith-based entities and non-faith-based entities for the same issues?

Becerra: Again, you raise the issue of, regardless of where your perspective is, wherever we all may fall on these issues, at the end of the day, we’ve got to make sure—at least I do if I’m fortunate enough to be the Secretary of HHS—I have to follow the law. And there I will tell you that we will make sure that we are following the law.

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