Joe Biden’s Historic Pick for Health Secretary Signals Hope

Xavier Becerra, who would be the first Latinx to lead Health and Human Services, has been an outspoken supporter of reproductive rights.

[PHOTO: Xavier Becerra appearing on a video link]
As California's attorney general, Xavier Becerra led legal battles across the nation to ensure Roe v. Wade is not made obsolete by legislation that seeks to chip away at abortion access. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Election Day was a landmark day for abortion access in my home state of Colorado. Not only was the Trump administration and its anti-reproductive rights agenda defeated, but voters in Colorado also overwhelmingly rejected Proposition 115, a ballot initiative that would have banned abortions after 22 weeks in our state.

As the leader of an organization that mobilizes and builds power in the Latinx community by pushing for policies that allow us to live with dignity, I’ve seen firsthand how Latinx people have been disproportionately harmed by the Trump administration.

I know Proposition 115 would have hurt Latinx, Black, Indigenous, and other people of color the most. So I’m deeply proud that our communities showed up in record numbers to reject Trump and these efforts to restrict abortion access in Colorado. We worked with partners to knock on tens of thousands of doors and call hundreds of thousands of Latino voters. This made a powerful impact. Latinx voters were up by at least 100,000 from 2018. We flipped a Senate seat and 73 percent of Colorado Latinos voted for Biden. We showed we are a force to be reckoned with, not only in shaping policy but also in deciding who gets to shape it.

But the defeat of Proposition 115 is only one success in a much longer fight. Across the country, abortion access continues to be threatened on the local, state, and national levels, in both the courts and the legislatures. Anti-abortion advocates and legislators are increasingly focused on pushing lies and medical misinformation about abortion later in pregnancy, along with policies that would restrict it, as a first step toward banning abortion entirely.

Now that we have defeated Proposition 115, we will continue holding our state lawmakers accountable to enact policies that protect access to comprehensive reproductive health care for all, including abortion, as well as fighting against policies that seek to outlaw it.

As we prepare for the incoming Biden administration, we recognize that concerted policy actions will need to be taken at the federal and state levels to remove existing barriers to abortion access and fully fund reproductive health care programs. With that in mind, we are encouraged to see that President-elect Joe Biden’s pick to run the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, an outspoken supporter of reproductive rights and a dedicated advocate for comprehensive health care for Latinx individuals and families. We urge the new administration to appoint more members of the Latinx community into critical leadership positions.

Real access means that everyone can make their own decisions and plans for reproductive care regardless of age, income, immigration status, or insurance coverage.

Becerra, who will be the first Latino to serve in this position if confirmed by the Senate, has a long history of consistently defending reproductive rights. He became California’s attorney general in 2017 and since then has led legal battles across the nation to ensure Roe v. Wade is not made obsolete by legislation that seeks to chip away at abortion access. He has argued against the criminalization of mothers for pregnancy loss, fought against admitting privileges laws that create unnecessary barriers to abortion care, vowed not to prosecute abortions in the event Roe is overturned, gone on the record opposing the Trump administration’s Separate Abortion Billing Rule, and filed lawsuits to block the adminstration’s efforts to expand the rights of employers to deny insurance coverage for birth control. As Becerra prepares to take leadership of HHS, we know he will continue to fight to ensure abortion remains a sovereign right and to protect underserved populations, including Latinx communities.

With focus on the incoming administration, state advocates are well aware of how much work is happening on the ground back home.

In Colorado, we are working to build support in dismantling obstacles that push abortion care out of reach for too many, including policies that erode young people’s access and deny insurance coverage of abortion for people who use Medicaid. These rules restrict our right to make our own decisions about our personal health care. People who already face disproportionate barriers to care are being hit the hardest, particularly those who can’t afford to pay for their abortion out of pocket or are unable to pull together money to travel long distances for abortion care.

Heading into 2021, COLOR, the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights, will continue to hold our state officials accountable by testifying at committee hearings, introducing new legislation, and organizing our communities to reach real reproductive access for all.

Real access means that everyone can make their own decisions and plans for reproductive care regardless of age, income, immigration status, or insurance coverage. We will keep working to make sure that Coloradans have full access to the reproductive health care they need, including pregnancy prevention, compassionate and affordable pregnancy services, and abortion care. While these are actions that can be taken at the federal level, we’ve seen firsthand that change can happen locally.

As we celebrate the incoming president-elect and vice president-elect, as well as Becerra’s future role as HHS secretary, we must also continue to organize our communities and hold this new administration accountable for promises made during election season.

We must do more than halt endless anti-abortion attacks like the one we just defeated in Colorado. We need proactive policies that protect our right to real reproductive care. We urge our elected officials to be innovative and to truly lead us forward to make our country a place where all of us can thrive. Together, if we keep up the fight at the national, state, and local levels, we can create a world where even our most vulnerable communities have access to the reproductive health care they need.