President Trump on Friday installed virulent anti-choice activist Charmaine Yoest as assistant secretary for public affairs at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
The appointment vaults Yoest to one of the top positions at HHS, the agency that sets public health policy in the United States. She will report to HHS Secretary Tom Price, serving as his “principal counsel on public affairs—providing executive leadership, policy direction, and management strategy.”
In other words, Yoest will communicate the policy decisions of her boss, who believes “there’s not one” woman who can’t afford birth control, to the press and the public.
Yoest’s record on reproductive rights is arguably even more extreme than Price’s.
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Trump’s appointment legitimizes the former president and CEO of Americans United for Life (AUL), an anti-choice copycat legislation mill looking to restrict the right to access comprehensive reproductive health care nationwide. The federal courts have largely blocked AUL’s efforts.
By tapping Yoest, the Trump administration sends a clear signal that it plans to use HHS to restrict reproductive rights as much as possible, no matter how much money that will cost taxpayers.
“It is unacceptable that someone with a history of promoting myths and false information about women’s health is appointed to a government position whose main responsibility is to provide the public with accurate and factual information,” Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Federation America, said in a statement. “Charmaine Yoest has spent her whole professional life opposing access to birth control and a woman’s right to a safe, legal abortion. While President Trump claims to empower women, he is appointing government officials who believe just the opposite.”
As Emily Bazelon wrote in a 2012 profile of Yoest for the New York Times, the anti-choice activist’s “end goal isn’t to make abortion safer. She wants to make the procedure illegal.”
“She leaves no room for exceptions in the case of rape or incest or to preserve the health of the mother,” Bazelon wrote. “She believes that embryos have legal rights and opposes birth control, like the IUD, that she thinks ‘has life-ending properties.'” Yoest reportedly dismissed using contraception to bring down the abortion rate as a “red herring.”
Yoest worked as a senior adviser to Mike Huckabee’s failed 2008 presidential campaign. Huckabee holds a hardline opposition to abortion rights, and in 2015 suggested he would be open to the idea of using federal troops to stop legal abortion. Yoest also worked as vice president at Family Research Council, which has been classified as an anti-LGBTQ hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Yoest is one of many anti-choice advocates installed at HHS since Trump took office. Paula Stannard, who ProPublica reports was hired to the agency as a “beachhead” in January, worked at HHS in the George W. Bush administration. Anti-choice activist Hadley Arkes has claimed that during Stannard’s time at HHS she worked on dubious “born-alive” efforts.
“Trump has broken nearly all of his promises to the American people in his first 100 days, but he has certainly stuck to his pledge to erode the constitutional right to abortion, punishing women in the process,” said Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. “This nomination helps fulfill that twisted promise and speaks volumes about the Trump administration’s continued disdain for reproductive freedom and women’s rights.”
Yoest has already influenced the U.S. Supreme Court for decades to come, per White House pool reports. Yoest, along with other prominent anti-choice activists who helped guide the process, convened at the White House on February 1, the day after Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch’s nomination.
Congressional Republicans are already pressuring HHS officials to wield regulatory power undermining reproductive rights.
A day before Yoest’s appointment, Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives met with Price to discuss so-called conscience protections, according to a press release from House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). McCarthy, House Budget Committee Chair Diane Black (R-TN), Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), and other prominent anti-choice lawmakers swayed Price to examine the Weldon Amendment, which prohibits states that receive federal family planning funding from discriminating against health-care plans based on whether they cover abortion care.
Congressional Republicans have falsely alleged the Weldon Amendment doesn’t go far enough and forces doctors to provide abortion care. They sought to codify and expand it last year in a successful House vote, but the legislation failed to advance to the U.S. Senate.
McCarthy said the Republicans are “fully confident” that their meeting with Price would yield a “fresh look” at the “controversy and other conscience violations.”
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