General Articles

Michael Leavitt Nominated as New Secretary of Health and Human Services

On December 13, President Bush nominated Michael O. Leavitt, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for the past year, to be Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS). He would replace current Secretary Tommy Thompson who recently announced his resignation.

"When confirmed by the Senate, Mike Leavitt will be charged with a broad agenda for the health and safety of the American people," President Bush said at a brief White House ceremony.1 Bush went on to describe the goals of the term and said that, "In this new term, we will implement the first-ever prescription drug benefit for seniors under Medicare. We will expand federal cooperation with faith-based groups that provide essential services, such as counseling and treatment for addictions. We will continue pursuing the great promise of medical research, always ensuring that the work is carried out with vigor and moral integrity."2 In describing his decision, the President cited Mr. Leavitt’s three terms as Utah governor and his work promoting programs that improved children’s access to health care in that state.

Mr. Leavitt said he regretted leaving the E.P.A., but said "I look forward, as the President said, to the implementation of the Medicare prescription drug program in 2006, medical liability reform and finding ways to reduce the cost of health care. I’m persuaded that we can use technology and innovation to meet our most noble aspirations, and not compromise our other values that we hold so dear."3

Leavitt served as the Governor of Utah from 1992 through 2003 when he was appointed EPA Administrator. While governor, he focused on homeland security, welfare reform, and environmental management, according to his White House biography.

Though Leavitt is an advocate of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs and is opposed to abortion rights, his decisions have not always reflected those beliefs. In 2000 he vetoed a state abstinence-only-until-marriage bill that would have limited sex education in schools to the teaching of abstinence before marriage and fidelity afterwards. The legislation also would have prohibited any discussion of birth control and would have required teachers to tell students that extramarital sex is illegal in Utah.4 At the time he explained, "the system as it is currently practiced serves the vast majority of the people of our state to their satisfaction."5 He also stated that, "We cannot take this matter lightly…Parents must be involved. Abstinence and fidelity are the essential core of instruction for our students."6 After vetoing the bill, however, he then instructed the state education board to implement many of the same proposals, including a requirement that school districts establish a committee made up of parents and educators to approve outside materials and guest speakers.

Leavitt is anti-choice. According to NARAL, in 1993, he said, "I am strongly pro-life and anti-abortion… I believe in the sanctity of life at whatever stage of development that life is in."7 During his time as governor, Leavitt signed several anti-abortion bills into law. However, some anti-abortion groups feel he has not always sided with their agenda.

Abstinence-only-until-marriage groups seem unsure of his record as well. According to the Abstinence Clearinghouse Update from December 13, "Leavitt appears to have a mixed record on abortion and abstinence education. He claims to be pro-life (and has signed some pro-life bills), but has repeatedly upset pro-life activists for some of his decisions. Likewise, he claims to be pro-abstinence education but has upset abstinence advocates for vetoing an abstinence education bill and his administration appears to have misspent federal abstinence funding on basketball games."8

Leavitt was born in Cedar City, Utah in 1951. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in economics and business from Southern Utah University. Prior to becoming governor, he served as the president and CEO of the Leavitt Group, a regional insurance firm, which established itself as the one of the top insurance brokers in America. He is married and has five children.

It is expected that he will be confirmed without controversy. He was confirmed for his position at the EPA one year ago by a vote of 88 to eight, and the Senate, with an even stronger Republican majority today, seems poised to accept his nomination.

"If confirmed, Leavitt will be influential in determining the status of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs during the next four years, and we are at best skeptical about the role he will play," William Smith, SIECUS’ Vice President of Policy said.


  1. White House Transcript, "President Bush Nominates Mike Leavitt as Secretary of HHS," 13 December 2004.
  2. Ibid.
  3. David Stout, "Bush Picks E.P.A. Chief to Take Over Health Cabinet Post," New York Times, 13 December 2004, accessed online on 13 December 2004.
  4. Associated Press, "Governor Vetoes Abstinence-Only Bill," Associated Press, 19 March 2000.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Judy Fahys, "Leavitt Vetoes Sex-Ed Bill, OKs Utility-Regulation Overhaul," The Salt Lake Tribune (Utah), 19 March 2000, A1.
  7. "HHS Secretary Nominee Opposes Abortion Rights," Ms. Magazine Feminist Wire Daily Newsbriefs, 15 December 2004, accessed online 22 December 2004.
  8. Abstinence Clearinghouse Email Update, "Next HHS Secretary," 13 December 2004.