Alex Azar, President Trump’s nominee for secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services—who has a background in big pharma—had his first Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday, during which he was asked his position on birth control coverage. Azar responded that the agency should be weighing employers’ consciences against women’s birth control access, suggesting he is aligned with the Trump administration’s position that employers may stop covering birth control for their employees.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., probed Azar for his opinion on birth control at the hearing, held before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

“I’m the secretary for all Americans,” Azar said in response. “I would faithfully implement [HHS] programs. We may differ in different elements of how those get implemented, but I firmly believe in following evidence and science.”

Murray pressed on. “Do you believe all women should have access to the health care their doctor recommends for them? Yes or no?” she said.

“If the issue is, for instance, the … conscience exception that HHS has come out with, I do believe we have to balance, of course, a woman’s choice of insurance that she would want with the conscience of employers and others. That’s a balance. That’s sort of American values,” Azar replied.

Murray then asked if an employer’s beliefs should take precedence over what is recommended by a woman’s doctor.

“Not in terms of access, but in terms of insurance,” Azar responded. “To force those very few. … I believe it’s less than 200 have come forward, very few employers would be impacted by that conscience exception. To respect, frankly, their rights as well as women’s access through the insurance.”

Murray disagreed. “I think women’s access to health care their doctor requires for them should take precedence,” she said, later telling Newsweek, “I’m concerned that Trump has sent us another extreme ideological nominee,” and that Azar seems to side with “ideology over science and right-wing politicians over women.”

Newsweek continues:

Azar’s response to her question, about whether women should have access to the health care their doctors recommend, proves the nominee is on the same page as the Trump administration, which rolled back the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that employers provide employees with birth control coverage in October. In the new guidelines, officials stated the administration was merely building on the country’s history of “providing conscience protections” for employers who opposed contraception on the basis of “religious beliefs or moral convictions.”

Until now, however, Azar hasn’t been extremely forthcoming with his own views about women’s reproductive rights, except for during the early 2000s, when he served as the deputy secretary of HHS under President George W. Bush. At the time, Azar commended Bush on signing the “Born-Alive Infants Protection Act,” legislation President Barack Obama, then a senator, opposed because he believed it undermined the abortion rights guaranteed by Roe v. Wade.

NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue said in a statement:

Alex Azar is a man who used his position of power to undermine abortion access and the basic rights women need to be equal partners in society. His explicitly anti-choice record makes clear that he’ll use a position at HHS to further attack reproductive freedom. Donald Trump’s disdain for women knows no bounds, so his nomination of Azar to lead the department with so much power over our reproductive rights comes as no surprise. The Senate should use this opportunity to stand up to Donald Trump’s dangerous, backwards agenda and refuse to confirm Azar.

Alex Azar has a history of donations to anti-choice politicians, including Donald Trump, Mike Pence and Mitch McConnell, which pro-choice and birth control advocates have cited as a concern.

Your support matters…

Independent journalism is under threat and overshadowed by heavily funded mainstream media.

You can help level the playing field. Become a member.

Your tax-deductible contribution keeps us digging beneath the headlines to give you thought-provoking, investigative reporting and analysis that unearths what's really happening- without compromise.

Give today to support our courageous, independent journalists.