In response to a CNA inquiry on enforcement of the law, an HHS spokesperson referred CNA to the secretary’s guidance issued on the Church Amendments – the second federal law the agency says it will enforce.
The Church Amendments prohibit discrimination against both health care workers who perform or assist in abortions, and those who object to performing or assisting in abortions.
Severino’s office in 2019 went public with allegations against the University of Vermont Medical Center, for allegedly forcing a nurse to participate in an abortion. Later in 2020, HHS referred the matter to the Justice Department, which filed a lawsuit arguing that the hospital had violated the Church Amendments in forcing the nurse to assist in the abortion.
The Biden administration quietly dropped the lawsuit in July, upon request by Becerra’s HHS.
Severino accused the HHS of selectively enforcing the Church Amendments.
“They are protecting abortionists instead of the victims of abortionists, which is beyond ironic. And they don’t have a legal basis to do so,” he said.
Furthermore, he said, the Church Amendments apply to employers and not to the state of Texas – which would mean that HHS’ enforcement of the Church Amendments in this case would be moot.
“But the Texas [heartbeat] law doesn’t really speak to Texas as an employer. So, they [HHS] are really barking up the wrong tree on this one, in order to signal to the administration’s allies in the abortion industry that they’ve got their back,” he said.
The agency is also making $10 million available to the group Every Body Texas, which disburses grants to clinics for family planning services. Under the Title X program, funds cannot directly pay for abortions, although the Biden administration loosened existing regulations and will allow grants to abortion providers for services other than abortion.
Becerra announced that Texas clinics can now apply for HHS resources to help women “impacted by” the Texas law.
“They are shoveling loads of money towards their abortion industry allies on the pretext that, with fewer abortions being available in Texas, that there’s going to be an emergency need for more contraceptives,” Severino explained.
(Story continues below)
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“That is effectively an admittance that people getting abortions were using it as a method of family planning,” he said, counter to a narrative that abortions might be “rare.”
The Texas Heartbeat Act restricts most abortions after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, which can occur as early as six weeks into pregnancy. The law is enforced through private civil lawsuits, and not by the state.
President Joe Biden in response promised a “whole-of-government” effort to maintain abortion in Texas.
Matt Hadro was the political editor at Catholic News Agency through October 2021. He previously worked as CNA senior D.C. correspondent and as a press secretary for U.S. Congressman Chris Smith.