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HHS nominee won’t say if parents can refuse child’s gender transitioning

Washington D.C., Feb 25, 2021 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- A nominee for assistant health secretary on Thursday wouldn’t say if government officials can intervene when parents refuse their child’s gender transitioning.

 

Dr. Rachel Levine, President Biden’s nominee for assistant secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), appeared before members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Thursday for a confirmation hearing. Levine, a biological male who identifies as transgender female, is currently Pennsylvania’s health secretary.

 

When pressed by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kent.) on the matter of minors being allowed to transition genders, Levine would not directly answer his questions.

 

“Do you support the government intervening to override the parent’s consent to give a child puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, and/or amputation surgery of breasts and genitalia?” Paul asked Levine. He stated his “alarm” that Levine was not directly answering his questions.

 

Levine responded that “transgender medicine is a very complex and nuanced field,” and told Paul “if confirmed to the position of assistant secretary of health, I would certainly be pleased to come to your office and to talk to you and your staff about the standards of care and the complexity of this field.”

 

Roger Severino, the former head of the HHS civil rights office, stated that Levine’s answer manifested “ideology” rather than “science.”

 

“I met with Dr. Levine while at HHS and asked a simple question. ‘What does it mean to be male or female?’ Much like @RandPaul, I couldn't get an answer,” Severino tweeted. “Science is about clarity and openness to review while ideology is about subjectivity backed by coercion of those who disagree.”

 

Severino is currently a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC), and directs the center’s HHS Accountability Project.

 

As Pennsylvania’s health secretary, Levine reportedly supported allowing minors to start hormone therapy, but only with their parents’ consent.

 

In a 2017 address at Franklin & Marshall College on transgender medicine, the health secretary said that teenagers could start taking puberty blockers at the start of puberty, and with the consent of parents, a therapist, and a physician.

 

For 14-16 year-olds, they could take cross-gender hormones with a gradual dosage increase, Levine said, while most transgender surgeries take place after the age of 18.

 

Regarding homeless youth who identify as LGBT, Levine said they do not have the “luxury” of protocols, so the transition process could be “accelerated” for them.

 

Levine also opposed religious exemptions to the HHS contraceptive mandate that were granted to the Little Sisters of the Poor. Levine called the exemptions “immoral and unethical.”

 

On Thursday, Paul repeatedly questioned Levine on the matter of children transitioning genders.

 

“Dr. Levine, do you believe that minors are capable of making such a life-changing decision as changing one’s sex?” Paul asked.

 

Levine said that “transgender medicine is a very complex and nuanced field, with robust research and standards of care that have been developed.”

 

Paul said in response that he was “alarmed” that Levine was “not absolutely willing to say minors shouldn’t be making decisions to amputate their breasts, or to amputate their genitalia.”

 

“I’m alarmed that you won’t say with certainty that minors should not have the ability to make the decision to take hormones that will affect them for the rest of their life,” he said.

 

Former HHS official: Becerra could promote abortion internationally

Washington D.C., Feb 25, 2021 / 11:16 am (CNA).- A former official at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) warned Thursday that health secretary nominee Xavier Becerra could pose grave implications for the global pro-life cause.

 

If confirmed as HHS Secretary, Becerra’s priority in the job would be abortion, said Valerie Huber, former U.S. Special Representative for Global Women's Health at HHS, during an interview on EWTN Pro-Life Weekly that will air Thursday night. 

 

“Having someone who is such a radical pro-abortion advocate will move that agenda to its limits,” Huber said. 

 

Becerra is currently California’s attorney general. During his tenure, he has upheld state pro-abortion laws that forced crisis pregnancy centers to advertise for abortions, and required Catholic nuns to have abortion coverage in their health plans. He has also pushed for easier access to the abortion pill regimen and supported lawsuits against abortion restrictions in other states. 

 

At his confirmation hearing on Wednesday, Becerra would not name a single abortion restriction that he supported. 

 

Huber noted the Biden administration has already allowed for U.S. global health assistance to fund international pro-abortion groups by repealing the Mexico City Policy. 

 

“By its being rescinded, that means that U.S. taxpayer dollars are going to be used to promote and to fund NGOs around the world who provide abortion,” Huber said. 

 

She said Becerra’s nomination could also have a wide-ranging impact on abortion not just within the United States, but overseas. 

 

“Most pro-life advocates here in the United States and citizens who don’t want their taxpayer dollars used for abortion often focus only on what’s happening here within the borders of the United States government,” Huber said. 

 

“What that does is gives a president and an HHS secretary who is so focused on abortion plenty of space for mischief-making that could result in abortion being deemed an international human right,” she said. 

 

Huber added that HHS is “ground zero for either the protection of life or the promotion of abortion.” She called Becerra “unfit” for the role of HHS secretary. 

 

During Becerra’s confirmation hearing this week, he was pressed by senators on his record on abortion and religious freedom. 

 

In one exchange during Becerra’s confirmation hearing on Tuesday, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), asked Becerra why he voted against a ban on partial-birth abortion. 

 

Becerra replied, “When I come to these issues, I understand that we may not always agree on where to go, but I think we can find some common ground on these issues.”

 

Romney said, “I think we can reach common ground on many issues, but on partial-birth abortion it sounds like we’re not going to reach common ground there.”

‘Roe v Wade’ film aims to accurately portray history of landmark decision

Denver Newsroom, Feb 25, 2021 / 12:45 am (CNA).- The co-writer and star of a new film chronicling the courtroom drama of the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court case said in a recent interview that the film aims to be a truthful and historically accurate account of how the landmark decision came to be, and stars actors with varying views on the topic of abortion. 



“Roe v Wade,” co-written and co-directed by Loeb and Cathy Allyn, is set to premiere at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) Feb. 28. 


Nick Loeb, a businessman-turned-filmmaker and actor, plays the part of Dr. Bernard Nathanson, a prolific abortion doctor who later converted to Christianity and became pro-life. 



In a Feb. 23 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Loeb said despite the film’s subject matter, it is not a “conservative,” “religious,” or even a “pro-life” film. 



“What we tried to do is really just lay out the facts of how Roe v. Wade came to be and how it was decided. People can take one view or another. I've had a lot of people who think it's in the middle,” he commented to The Hollywood Reporter. 



Still, Loeb himself is pro-life and the personal journey of Loeb’s character, Nathanson, is one of powerful pro-life conversion. 


“Why some folks may think it's a conservative film or why it aligns with those views is because the protagonist actually converts. He starts off pro-choice and becomes pro-life through his journey. It's a true story,” Loeb commented. 



Nathanson personally performed an estimated 5,000 abortions and oversaw tens of thousands more, including one on his own pregnant girlfriend in the 1960s. 


Nathanson was previously a strong proponent of legalized abortion, and has been accused of inflating statistics on illegal abortions in the U.S. In 1969, he helped to found the lobbying organization now known as NARAL Pro-Choice America. 



He left the practice of abortion in the early 1970s, and became a Christian and a pro-life activist until his death in 2011.


Loeb said he experienced an evolution of his own views on abortion similar to that of Nathanson. As a young man, he was pro-choice; in his 20s, he had two partners who obtained abortions. 



“[I]t really had an emotional impact on me. As I've gotten older, the more regret I have. If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn't have had them,” he commented. 



“Learning more about the science behind it and when a human being is actually created, I slowly started to change my views. I went on the same journey as Bernard [Nathanson] and that's why I was really interested in playing this role.”



Several of the film’s other stars are also known to be pro-life, such as Jon Voight, who stars as Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger. 



In 2020, "Roe v. Wade" premiered at the Vienna Independent Film Festival, where Voight took home the award for best supporting actor, the Federalist reported. 



Loeb said not all the actors in the film are pro-life, but at least one of the actors— whom he declined to name— converted from pro-choice views to pro-life over the course of filmmaking. 



Loeb said writing the film took extensive research into the Roe v. Wade case, and it was important to him to have a female co-writer, rather than him alone. 



“The case gets thrown around all the time without a full understanding of how it came to be and what happened. I really want people to understand, whether they're pro-choice or pro-life, that when a woman gets pregnant, there's a baby there,” he concluded.



“It's not a clump of cells or a gob of goo. There's a real living being that has a heartbeat in the first couple of weeks that you can hear. People should understand that so they don't take abortion so lightly.”


The film is set to be available in April on Amazon Prime and iTunes.



Loeb’s comments are not the first time he has spoken in defense of unborn children. 



In 2016, Loeb and his then-fiance Sofia Vergara created and froze several embryos through IVF. When the couple separated, Loeb sued for custody of the embryos in order to implant them in a surrogate mother. A Louisiana court dismissed that lawsuit earlier this month. 



In 2019, Loeb told the National Catholic Register that Facebook had blocked his team from promoting a previous Hollywood Reporter article on the film.




After suicide at Catholic services center, Seattle archbishop emphasizes hope

Seattle, Wash., Feb 24, 2021 / 05:07 pm (CNA).- In the wake of a suicide at a Catholic social services headquarters in Seattle, Archbishop Paul Etienne said that Christians should remember the “desperation and hopelessness” of those in distress, but also God’s “profound love.”



In a Feb. 23 letter to the Catholics of the Archdiocese of Seattle, Etienne reported that on Tuesday afternoon a “distraught individual” entered the headquarters of Catholic Community Services and Catholic Housing Services at the Randolph Carter Family and Learning Center in Seattle.



“He threatened the life of a staff member before taking his own life,” the archbishop said. “Mercifully, no one else was harmed and all of the staff were able to safely leave the building.”

 

The Catholic community was “deeply saddened by the tragic events,” said the archbishop.



“Our prayers and thoughts are with the deceased person and his family,” Etienne said. “Our prayers are also with everyone who was part of or witnessed today’s painful events.”



The archbishop connected the man’s death to the stresses of poverty, the coronavirus epidemic and despair.



“Events like this remind us of the stress and pain that unrelenting poverty can bring. Events like this remind us of the real suffering and frustration that coincide with untreated health conditions,” he said. “Events like this remind us of the desperation and hopelessness people feel before taking their own lives—a tragic trend that is exacerbated by the pressures of the COVID-19 epidemic.”



The archbishop prayed that everyone involved is “aware of and reminded of God’s profound love.”



“I ask the Holy Spirit to provide healing and comfort to our families and communities, especially those who are poor, fearful and vulnerable during these most challenging of times,” he added.



The archbishop especially praised the employees of Catholic Community Services and Catholic Housing Services.



“We are called by Jesus to accompany the poor and care for them,” he said, saying this is what the employees do “every day.”



“They journey with the people they serve through very challenging difficulties—and they do so with the love and care of our Savior.”



Etienne said he was grateful for the employees and leadership at the services center for their quick response in following safety protocols. He also thanked the Seattle Police Department and other first responders.



“I encourage anyone who is struggling during these difficult times, or who has a loved one who is struggling, to reach out for help,” Etienne said. “Our Catholic community is here to support you through our parishes, Catholic Community Services, or our mental health ministries. Please remember that you are not alone.” 




Report: Australia has less than half the palliative care doctors it needs

Washington D.C., Feb 24, 2021 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- An Australian university has found that the country has less than half the number of palliative care physicians needed to care for terminally-ill patients.

 

A study published by Australian Catholic University’s (ACU) PM Glynn Institute revealed that the country only has 0.9 palliative care doctors per every 100,000 people. According to the ACU, health industry standards state there should be at least two doctors for this population.

 

Australia is currently considering legalizing euthanasia nationwide. Two states have already legalized it, and the issue has been debated in many other states. At least one state, Tasmania, is expected to legalize the practice later this year.

 

Dr. Michael Casey, the director of the PM Glynn Institute, warned that the lack of doctors available for palliative care will push ill patients towards choosing assisted suicide. 

 

“People say voluntary-assisted dying is about giving patients a choice, but if dying patients cannot access the palliative care services they need, they don’t really have a free choice,” said Casey in the the Australian publication The Catholic Leader. 

 

Casey said that the country needs “to do more to ensure that everyone who needs good quality palliative care can access it, wherever they are and whatever their circumstances, before considering a momentous step like voluntary assisted dying.”

 

Palliative care seeks to accompany a patient towards the end of their lives, not to accelerate the process of death. Palliative care specialists are typically opposed to euthanasia. 

 

The author of the ACU report, Dr. Cris Abbu, said that there should be more efforts taken to encourage doctors and nurses to enter the speciality of palliative care. 

 

“Palliative care remains one of the least-preferred specialisations of medical students for future practice,” said Abbu. “The rates of full-time equivalent palliative medicine physicians and palliative care nurses have remained unchanged since 2013, despite the increasing demand.” 

 

Abbu suggested that the government of Australia subsidize the training of 225 new palliative care physicians in order to better satisfy the demand for the specialty. He also said there should be a community-based approach to palliative care, in order to ease strain on hospitals. 

 

Currently, public hospitals are the providers of palliative care services in 86% of cases in Australia. 

 

“Given an aging population and an increase in the incidence of chronic illnesses, both of which imply increasing need for palliative care services, the burden on public hospitals is likely to increase in the future unless we find workable alternatives,” said Abbu. 

 

Virtual conference to focus on St. Joseph

CNA Staff, Feb 24, 2021 / 03:33 pm (CNA).- As part of the Year of Saint Joseph called for by Pope Francis, the National Shrine of St. Joseph will host a virtual conference and rededicate the saint’s statue. 



The event takes place on March 19, the Solemnity of St. Joseph, and includes a day of prayer and talks from Catholic leaders.



A highlight of the conference will be the rededication of a restored statue of St. Joseph - a life-size depiction of Joseph holding the infant Christ. According to the website, the crowns of the two characters had deteriorated and Joseph’s cloak had faded prior to the restoration.


“Be part of a historic day on March 19th when the National Shrine of St Joseph holds an all-day event filled with prayer, insightful and inspirational talks,” the website reads. 



“This day will feature the historic rededication of the shrine’s statue of St. Joseph and offer a powerful entrustment of the Nation to Saint Joseph during this year dedicated to him [by] Pope Francis. This will be a powerful grace-filled day.”



During the event, Father Don Calloway, Marian of the Immaculate Conception, will lead an entrustment of the United States to St. Joseph and preside over the statue's crowning. The statue still needs to be installed and the shrine is accepting donations to help complete the project. 



A rosary will be led by Father Francis Hoffman, host of the Family Rosary Across America and CEO at Relevant Radio; and a Divine Mercy Chaplet will be led by Drew Mariani, host of “The Drew Mariani Show.”



Prior to the event, people may submit prayer requests to be placed below the shrine’s main altar, After a month, the intentions will be relocated to the St. Joseph prayer chest. 


The speakers at the virtual conference will discuss the life of St. Joseph and the spiritual benefit of the saint’s intercession and Christian example. Teresa Tomeo, a host for Catholic television and radio, will be the master of ceremonies. 



Father Michael Brennan, Norbertine priest and director of the Archconfraternity of St. Joseph, will discuss the rich history of the National Shrine of St. Joseph and the Norbertines’ spiritual practices. Established in 1892, the shrine is located on the campus of St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin. The order has conducted a novena to St. Joseph for over 100 years.



Dr. Mark Miravalle, a mariologist and the author of “Meet your Spiritual Father,” will describe some benefits attached to St. Joseph’s intercession, especially for struggling families. He will encourage participants to pray to St. Joseph, especially for their future spouse and to heal divisions in the family.


Father Chad Ripperger, an exorcist in the Archdiocese of Denver, will emphasize the role of St. Joseph as a spiritual protector and father. 



Father Matthew Spencer, the former host for Relevant Radio’s St. Joseph’s Workshop with Fr. Matthew Spencer, will share a variety of devotions to the saint.


At hearing, Becerra won’t name single abortion restriction he favors

Washington D.C., Feb 24, 2021 / 03:28 pm (CNA).- President Joe Biden’s nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services declined at a hearing Wednesday to state if he would support any theoretical type of restriction on abortion. 



Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) questioned California’s Attorney General Xavier Becerra during his confirmation hearing with the Senate Committee on Finance. Daines said he had “serious concerns” with Becerra’s “radical views” on abortion, and noted that many Montanans, as well as national pro-life groups, had voiced their opposition to their nomination.



In an effort to give Becerra a chance to “push back” against this view, Daines asked him if he could “name one abortion restriction that you might support.” 


“I have tried to make sure that I am abiding by the law, because whether it’s a particular restriction, or whether it’s the whole idea of abortion, whether we agree or not, we have to come to some conclusion,” said Becerra.


Daines pressed back, asking if there was “any line” that Becerra would draw, asking him to name “just one” restriction that he might support. 



Becerra then reminded Daines that his wife is an OB/GYN who has cared for babies “for decades,” and then said that his mother was praying the Rosary for him and had “blessed” him that morning prior to his hearing. He did not provide a restriction he may support. 



Daines asked if Becerra would support a ban on abortion following a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome. Again, Becerra refused to answer, saying, “I respect the different views that are out there, but what’s important to make sure that my view is in according with the law.”


Becerra declined to comment if he would support a ban on sex-selective abortion or a ban on partial-birth abortion, saying that he would “respect those who take a particular view,” but that his job would be “following the law.” 


Partial-birth abortion was outlawed in the United States in 2003. Becerra did not say he was opposed to this ban, nor did he say he supported it. 



While a congressman, Becerra voted against a partial-birth abortion ban and also opposed a bill that criminalized the killing of an unborn child resulting from an assault on the mother.



As attorney general of California, he repeatedly defended the state’s pro-abortion laws while also prosecuting pro-life activists. He also led other state attorneys general in fighting state abortion restrictions in court.



Becerra defended the state’s Reproductive FACT Act, a law passed in 2015 before his tenure that forced crisis pregnancy centers to advertise where clients could get abortions. The court battles over the law reached the Supreme Court, which ruled in 2018 that the law violated the free speech rights of pregnancy centers.



He also continued the state’s prosecution of pro-life activist David Daleiden, for his 2015 undercover videos claiming that Planned Parenthood unlawfully profited from the fetal tissue of aborted babies. The previous attorney general, current Vice President Kamala Harris, initiated the prosecution of Daleiden.



Becerra defended the state’s 2014 mandate which forced even Catholic religious— the Missionary Guadalupanas of the Holy Spirit—to provide abortion coverage in employee health plans. For this action—as well as for the state’s previous enforcement of the Reproductive FACT Act—the HHS Office for Civil Rights issued notices of violation to the state.


Health secretary nominee: 'I have never sued any nuns'

Washington D.C., Feb 24, 2021 / 02:24 pm (CNA).- On Wednesday, President Biden’s health secretary nominee explained his support of coercive contraceptive and abortion coverage mandates against Catholic nuns, claiming he had never “sued any nuns.”

 

“I have never sued any nuns. I have taken on the federal government, but I have never sued any affiliation of nuns,” said Xavier Becerra—currently California’s attorney general—before members of the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday, at his confirmation hearing to be the next health secretary.

 

While Becerra has not directly filed lawsuits against Catholic nuns in his time as California attorney general, two different orders of Catholic nuns have claimed religious freedom violations by government mandates that he supported in his official capacity.

 

In 2017, Becerra sued the Trump administration over its religious and moral exemptions granted to groups affected by the HHS contraceptive mandate. These objecting groups included the Little Sisters of the Poor, who fought the mandate for years in court.

 

Becerra’s lawsuit—as well as a lawsuit by the state of Pennsylvania against the administration—resulted in the nuns appealing to the Supreme Court to intervene in the case, to defend their exemption. The court in 2019 allowed them to intervene, and ultimately ruled in their favor in July by upholding the Trump administration’s religious and moral exemptions to the HHS contraceptive mandate.

 

Despite his previous lawsuit, when asked on Wednesday by Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) if he would uphold the current religious exemptions to the HHS mandate for the Little Sisters of the Poor, Becerra said he would “defend the law and support the law that’s in place.”

 

President Biden has previously said he would remove the religious exemption granted by the Trump administration to the nuns.

 

In another case involving Becerra and nuns, a group of Catholic nuns was affected by the state’s universal abortion coverage mandate. They did not fight the mandate in court, but did file a complaint with the civil rights office at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The Missionary Guadalupanas of the Holy Spirit alleged that their religious freedom was being violated by having to provide abortion coverage in health plans.

 

The HHS office in Jan., 2020 ultimately found that Becerra violated federal conscience laws, and gave him 30 days to comply with the law. Becerra refused, and in December the agency announced it would withhold $200 million in Medicaid funds to California.

 

On Wednesday, Becerra had been asked by Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) about his record on religious freedom and abortion.

 

“It does seem like, as [California] Attorney General, you spent an inordinate amount of time and effort suing pro-life organizations like Little Sisters of the Poor, or trying to ease restrictions or expand abortion,” Thune said.

 

In his tenure as the state’s attorney general, Becerra also upheld state abortion laws such as a requirement that crisis pregnancy centers advertise for abortions. The Supreme Court ultimately ruled against that law in its 2018 ruling NIFLA v. Becerra.

 

Becerra also pushed for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to loosen its safety regulations of the abortion pill regimen, and on Tuesday indicated that he wanted to allow the abortion pill to be prescribed and dispensed remotely—a change from existing FDA regulations.

 

“I believe the majority of the American people would not want their Secretary of Health and Human Services focused or fixated on expanding abortion, when we’ve got all these public health issues to deal with,” Thune said. “How do you assure us that that’s not going to be something that continues over from your time as attorney general?”

 

Becerra responded that he had not sued nuns but had rather sued the federal government. “In California, it’s my job to defend the rights of my state and uphold the law,” he said of his defense of the state’s pro-abortion laws. “As I try to uphold the law, I recognize that people will look at these things a little bit differently.”


At his confirmation hearing on Wednesday, Becerra was also asked about abortion.

 

Noting the practice of doctors to administer anesthesia to second-term unborn babies for fetal surgery, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) asked him if he believed it should be “routine” to also do so in cases of late-term abortion.

 

“Do you believe it should be routine to also give anesthesia to unborn children during late-term abortion to minimize the pain that they’re capable of experiencing?” Grassley asked. Becerra responded that he would follow both the “science” and the “law” as health secretary.

 

“In my career of having worked to protect the health of all Americans, what I would do as secretary is what I’ve done as attorney general of our state, and that is I would follow the law, and expect others to follow the law,” Becerra said.

 

Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) pressed him on the issue of religious freedom, asking if he would maintain an existing HHS office to uphold conscience protections in health care. The HHS Conscience and Religious Freedom Division, established in 2018, hears complaints by health care workers objecting to participating in procedures such as abortion or assisted suicide.

 

“I believe deeply in religious freedom,” Becerra said, adding that as health secretary he would “respect” and “enforce” the law.

 

Lankford followed up, asking Becerra why his office was involved in religious freedom lawsuits including NIFLA v. Becerra.

 

“Right now, California is following the rules that were provided to us by the Supreme Court,” Becerra said of the 2018 ruling. After the NIFLA ruling, the HHS civil rights office found that Becerra had previously violated federal conscience protections by enforcing the law; however, the HHS office simultaneously closed the case, noting that the violations occurred before the high court’s decision.

 

Lankford noted that Becerra’s was a “unique situation” of having sued the federal government, only to be nominated to head a federal agency.

 

“I will have to abide by ethics rules,” Becerra said, noting that he would have to recuse himself in certain cases California is involved with at the state level.

 

Lankford emphasized it was “exceptionally important” to honor conscience rights of health care workers, on issues such as abortion and assisted suicide. “This is going to be a very significant issue,” he said.

 

Becerra was also questioned by senators on the issue of abortion on Tuesday. He would not directly answer whether he, as health secretary, would support taxpayer-funded abortion, and did not explain why he previously opposed a 2003 ban on partial-birth abortions.

 

Becerra did indicate that he wanted to expand access to chemical abortions, saying that patients have found Telehealth advantageous during the coronavirus pandemic. In response to a question about federal restrictions on the abortion pill regimen, he said that remote health care practice is “something that we should really build on.”

 

Pro-abortion groups have pushed for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to allow for remote prescribing and dispensing of the abortion pill regimen.

Education Department reverses stance on Connecticut’s transgender athlete policy

Washington D.C., Feb 24, 2021 / 11:00 am (CNA).- The Department of Education (ED) on Tuesday reversed its previous opposition to Connecticut’s policy of allowing biological males to play girls’ sports.

 

In a letter to attorneys for several Connecticut public school districts and its high school athletic association, the agency’s Office for Civil Rights said it would be withdrawing its previous findings that the state athletic policy violated Title IX.

 

Beginning in 2017, the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference allowed student athletes to participate in sports based on their gender identity. Three female track athletes filed a complaint with the ED civil rights office and sued over the policy, alleging that it discriminated against them.

 

In response, the agency last year sided with the girls that the state policy violated Title IX—but has now withdrawn that stance under the new Biden administration.


The group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) said the office’s action on Tuesday was “defying common sense.”

 

The decision “can’t change biological reality or the correct interpretation of the law,” said Christiana Holcomb, legal counsel with ADF.


ADF is representing three girls in their lawsuit against the Connecticut Association of Schools. The girls alleged that they were adversely affected by having to compete against biological males in track events, with benefits such as college scholarships possibly being at stake.

 

Two biological males identifying as transgender females won 15 state championships in women’s track events. One of the males broke 10 state records previously held by ten different female athletes.

 

The girls’ complaint in Soule v. Connecticut Association of Schools said that sex-specific sports have been based on “biological differences,” as “those differences matter for fair competition.”

 

In response, the Trump administration issued letters of impending enforcement action against Connecticut, ruling that the state’s high school athletics policy violated federal civil rights law.

 

Title IX of the 1972 Educational Amendments Act prohibits sex discrimination in federally-funded education activities and programs. The Education Department also had referred the cases to the Justice Department.

 

On Tuesday, however, the ED civil rights office not only said it was withdrawing its previous findings in the cases, but also said that it would be reviewing the cases based on President Biden’s recent executive order reinterpreting sex discrimination.

 

That Jan. 20 order said that federal civil rights protections against sex discrimination also protect against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Legal experts warned that the sweeping order would force girls to share sports, locker rooms, and shelters with biological males identifying as transgender females.

 

“Males will always have inherent physical advantages over comparably talented and trained girls; that’s the reason we have girls’ sports in the first place,” Holcomb said on Wednesday.

 

Title IX “exists precisely because of these differences” between men and women, “and is intended to ensure that women and girls have an equal opportunity to compete, achieve, and win,” she said.

 

On Feb. 4, Biden’s nominee for education secretary said that students identifying as transgender female should be allowed to participate in girls’ sports.

 

Miguel Cardona, currently Connecticut’s education commissioner, told senators that he believes it “is the legal responsibility of schools to provide opportunities for students to participate in activities, and this includes students who are transgender.”

 

After the Supreme Court in June ruled that federal protections against sex-based employment discrimination also protect gender identity, the ED civil rights office said it would continue to get Connecticut to comply with Title IX.

 

The Supreme Court’s Bostock decision addressed a separate case of employment discrimination under Title VII of civil rights law, the office said, noting that Connecticut’s policy still violated Title IX.

 

Connecticut school districts “treated student-athletes differently based on sex, by denying benefits and opportunities to female students that were available to male students,” the agency found.

Former HHS official: Becerra must be questioned over conscience violations

Washington D.C., Feb 24, 2021 / 09:00 am (CNA).- President Biden’s health secretary nominee must be held accountable for forcing California Catholic nuns to cover abortions, said a former official at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

 

On Tuesday, Xavier Becerra—California’s attorney general and President Biden’s nominee for HHS Secretary—was grilled on the topic of abortion at his first Senate confirmation hearing. He will appear before members of the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday afternoon for his second confirmation hearing.

 

Roger Severino, the former head of the HHS civil rights office, told CNA on Tuesday that he wished Becerra had to answer for violating federal conscience protections as California’s attorney general.

 

“Becerra should have been asked to explain why he preferred to have California lose $200 million in Medicaid funds over allowing nuns to have insurance without abortion coverage, after my office had found him liable for violating the law,” Severino told CNA.

 

In Jan., 2020, the HHS Office for Civil Rights found that California violated the federal Weldon Amendment through its abortion coverage mandate. The state mandate forced even Catholic religious—the Missionary Guadalupanas of the Holy Spirit—to cover abortions in their health plans.

 

The Weldon Amendment prohibits federal funding of states that discriminate against a “health care entity” because of its refusal to provide or cover abortions. Severino’s office gave Becerra 30 days to comply with the notice of violation, but Becerra refused to do so.

 

Ten months later, HHS announced it would withhold $200 million in Medicaid funds to California, for violating the law.

 

Becerra’s “resistance to the law” indicates “that he would try to shut down the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division” at HHS, Severino said.

 

The division was established in 2018 to help enforce existing federal conscience protections for health care workers who object to participating in procedures such as abortions or assisted suicide.

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Becerra “should have been put on record” about leaving the conscience division in place, Severino said.

 

Severino is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC) who directs the center’s HHS Accountability Project.

 

On Tuesday, members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee questioned Becerra on his views on partial-birth abortion, taxpayer-funded abortion, and expanding access to chemical abortions.

 

As evidenced in his answers, Becerra actually wants to expand access to chemical abortions by allowing remote prescription of the abortion pill regimen, Severino said.

 

When pressed by Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) on his push to deregulate the abortion pill regimen during the pandemic, despite its “serious complications,” Becerra answered that the government should allow chemical abortions to be prescribed through Telehealth and dispensed remotely.

 

“And the fact that we are able to dispense care without having to have our families actually show up at the doctor’s office now—through Telehealth and other means—is something that we should really build on,” he said.

 

Pro-abortion groups have pushed for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to remove its safety regulations of the abortion pill regimen. Since 2000, the regimen has been on a list of higher-risk procedures and requires in-person prescription at a medical clinic, by a certified prescriber.

 

Pro-abortion groups pushed for the regulations to be halted during the pandemic, and for the regimen to be prescribed remotely via Telehealth and shipped to women. In January, the Supreme Court upheld the FDA’s protocol during the pandemic.

 

Severino said that Becerra “made clear that he will expand chemical abortions through the use of technology, even if it increases the threats to the safety of the woman.”

 

When asked by Sen. Mitt Romney why he voted against a partial-birth abortion ban in 2003 as a U.S. congressman, Becerra would not answer why, and emphasized the health secretary’s duty of promoting public health.

 

“[E]veryone wants to make sure that, if you have an opportunity, you’re going to live a healthy life,” Becerra said. He emphasized the existence of “deeply-held beliefs on this issue” and promised to “find some common ground on these issues.”

 

Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) also reminded Becerra of “where you actually took to court the Little Sisters of the Poor.”

 

After the Trump administration in 2017 granted the Little Sisters of the Poor and other groups broad religious and moral exemptions to the HHS contraceptive mandate, Becerra sued the administration, alleging that it had violated procedural law in crafting its exemptions. The lawsuit resulted in the Catholic sisters returning to court to defend their religious exemption.

 

The Supreme Court in 2020 ruled in favor of the Trump administration, but President Biden has said he would scrap the religious exemptions to the mandate in favor of the Obama administration’s previous regulations. As the Little Sisters of the Poor had sued over the Obama administration’s rule, Biden’s promise could reignite the sisters’ years-long court battles over the mandate.

 

“It’s notable that he [Becerra] refused to explain why he was in favor of partial-birth abortion, and refused to pledge to leave the Little Sisters of the Poor and other religious groups free to operate according to their religious beliefs on human life and morality,” Severino told CNA.