Sen. Marco Rubio has delayed a committee vote on President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead global health development at the U.S. Agency for International Development, citing the nominee’s past comments on gruesome partial-birth abortion techniques. 

“Atul Gawande’s defense of infanticide is disqualifying,” the Florida Republican said in a statement. “Infanticide should be condemned, not celebrated, but Gawande’s radical, anti-life views are becoming mainstream in today’s Democratic Party.”

“President Biden should withdraw Gawande’s nomination and replace him with someone who is committed to upholding the agency’s mission of saving lives,” Rubio, a senior Republican on the Senate Committee for Foreign Relations, added.

Partial-birth abortions have been banned in the United States since the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act passed Congress in 2003. The act was signed by former President George W. Bush and the Supreme Court upheld it as constitutional in 2007.

According to the legislation, a partial-birth abortion is one in which an abortion doctor delivers a living baby until the baby’s head is outside the mother’s body, then punctures the back of the baby’s head, “removing the baby’s brains.”

Gawande, who is nominated to be assistant administrator of the Bureau for Global Health at the U.S. Agency for International Development, formerly suggested that critics should not vilify partial-birth abortion over other abortion procedures merely because it is gruesome, writing in a 1998 Slate op-ed, “Grossness is not a good objection. Lots of operations are gross—leg amputations, burn surgery, removal of facial tumors, etc. But that does not make them wrong.”

The Biden nominee, who is a professor at Harvard Medical School and an endocrine surgeon, acknowledged in his op-ed that partial-birth abortions are “disturbing” since the baby being aborted is “big now—like a fully formed child.” 

He described the procedure in gruesome detail, comparing partial-birth abortions to dilation and evacuation procedures (abortions in which the abortion doctor vacuums the baby out of the mother’s womb). 

“Partial-birth abortion is, if anything, less grotesque,” he wrote. “The fetus is delivered feet first. To get the large head out, the doctor cuts open a hole at the base of the fetus’s skull and inserts tubing to suck out the brain, which collapses the skull.”

Gawande, who is also the author of several books and a staff writer at The New Yorker, suggested that if partial-birth abortions are “too gruesome to allow” (as advocates were insisting at the time), then dilation and evacuation abortions may also be too gruesome to be permitted. 

“And that’s the inevitable next target for pro-life advocates,” the Biden nominee wrote. 

He also discussed arguments over when abortion should be banned, writing that an unborn baby “does become a distinctly different being” somewhere between 22 and 25 weeks and adding that what matters, when determining life, is whether someone’s brain is functioning or not. 

“Likewise, in the case of a fetus, it seems that what we want to know is whether it has a brain with the spark of consciousness,” he wrote. “For example, we don’t view anencephalics, babies tragically born with only a brain stem and not the rest of the brain, as living humans. Even for viable anencephalics, there’s no purpose to providing treatment. We let them die.”

“Whether the fetus is in the womb or out, big or small, does not matter, either,” he added. “But the size and appearance of the late-term fetus make us imagine that it has become a sensate, aware creature—and makes many supporters of first-trimester abortion uncomfortable with later-term ones.”

Neither the White House nor Gawande immediately responded to requests for comment from The Daily Signal. 

“I’m pleased to see Sen. Rubio raise these concerns about the nomination of Atul Gawande to serve in this important role at USAID,” Grace Melton, senior associate for social issues at the United Nations for The Heritage Foundation’s DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society, told The Daily Signal. (The Daily Signal is the news outlet of The Heritage Foundation)

“It is a tragedy whenever American development aid is entangled with abortion,” Melton continued. “When we send our tax dollars abroad to promote global health we should do so in a manner that protects the lives and health of the recipients, including the unborn.”

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