The Trump administration is slated to add to its growing roster of reproductive rights opponents at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
Renee Ellmers, who once represented North Carolina in the U.S. House of Representatives, will work for HHS from Atlanta, according to a Wednesday report from the Raleigh News & Observer. She will oversee the department’s work in eight states and “represent” HHS Secretary Tom Price, who believes “there’s not one” woman who can’t afford birth control without the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) birth control benefit.
Back in Washington, former GOP Colorado Lt. Gov. Jane Norton will lead the HHS Office of Intergovernmental and External Affairs, and Shannon Royce will head the HHS Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, Politico first reported.
These are the latest anti-choice stalwarts to rise to power in the Trump administration who will set public health policy in the United States.
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Norton’s record appears to be the most extreme on abortion rights, while anti-choice groups question whether Ellmers, a reliable ally during her time in Congress, is sufficiently opposed to reproductive rights. Royce is an anti-LGBTQ extremist who has belonged to a group touting creationism, along with opposing abortion rights.
During her failed bid for the GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate in 2010, Norton became the first candidate to ever receive the endorsement of anti-choice legislation mill Americans United for Life (AUL) in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Citizens United decision. That decision, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, meant that nonprofit 501 c(4) groups like AUL “were suddenly free to begin spending money to directly advocate for and against specific candidates.”
Norton began waging a war on Planned Parenthood in the late 1990s. Under her leadership, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment moved to ban organizations providing abortion care from receiving state funding. Norton justified the decision using a false claim that providing federal or state funds to health providers who provide abortion care effectively funds the procedure, even though those services are funded separately. Money, she seemed to suggest, is “fungible,” as many Republicans have put it.
State audits had determined the legality of state grants to abortion providers despite a Colorado constitutional amendment banning indirect and direct funding of abortions because “Planned Parenthood and other agencies didn’t co-mingle funds used for abortions and other services,” the Associated Press reported in 1999. Norton, however, said her office had “reached a different conclusion.”
That decision placed hurdles to providing care by forcing Planned Parenthood to form a separate corporation for their facilities offering abortions in the state. And it continues to inform the Trump administration. Ivanka Trump, President Trump’s daughter and the anti-woman administration’s offset on so-called women’s issues, suggested that the health-care organization do the same nationwide in a meeting this month with Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards.
Colorado later restored funding to most of the Planned Parenthood clinics.
Norton in 2001 again tried to cut off Planned Parenthood from state funding, alleging that the health-care provider had violated the state’s constitution and used state funding for abortion care. It’s a legal fight she would refuse to cede, and with the help of anti-choice legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom, continued the fight into 2016 when a Colorado appeals court ruled against her.
Norton’s role in HHS will allow her to continue leading the fight to defund Planned Parenthood at the state level. The Office of Intergovernmental and External Affairs serves as agency’s “liaison to state, local, and tribal governments and non-governmental organizations.”
Ellmers’ appointment comes as little surprise in an administration that values loyalty. The latest anti-choice administration official was the first woman in Congress to endorse Trump in his presidential campaign. Trump, in turn, recorded robocalls for Ellmers in the days before the “political fight of her life,” the GOP primary for North Carolina’s redrawn Second District.
Ellmers lost that fight, and her seat in the House, after anti-choice group Susan B. Anthony List targeted her during the primary for voicing concerns about language regarding exceptions in an extreme 20-week ban bill.
Though Ellmers had a long history of opposition to reproductive rights and ultimately supported the measure after Republicans dropped the requirement for rape victims to formally report their assault to the authorities in order to get an abortion, Susan B. Anthony List reportedly vowed to spend $50,000 and deploy their supporters to knock on over 12,500 doors in the state.
That effort seemingly paid off when Ellmers lost her bid for re-election in 2016. She was the first GOP incumbent to lose a seat in Congress that election cycle.
Trump’s support for Ellmers over the concerns of anti-choice groups seemed like yet another sign of disconnect between the then-Republican presidential nominee and anti-choice activists frustrated with Trump’s shifting positions.
However, Trump issued a letter in September announcing that he had enlisted Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser to lead a “pro-life coalition” in support of his campaign. Trump turned to Dannenfelser and other prominent anti-choice activists on filling the vacant U.S. Supreme Court seat with Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch, and Vice President Mike Pence gave a keynote speech at the organization’s May gala.
A question to Susan B. Anthony List spokesperson Mallory Quigley about whether the group backs the Trump administration’s new hire appeared to strike a nerve. Quigley refused to answer the question, instead telling Rewire by email to “consider covering some real news.” She did not answer subsequent questions about whether the Trump administration approached the group about the decision to bring on Ellmers.
Shannon Royce comes from the Family Research Council (FRC), which has been classified as an anti-LGBTQ hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Royce’s LinkedIn profile still lists her as FRC’s chief of staff along with the CEO of ChosenFamilies.org, “a non-profit, Biblical worldview ministry for families living with hidden disabilities such as Autism spectrum, mental health, neurological disorders, and other disabilities that are often misunderstood.”
Royce on May 12 tweeted about her last day at the hate group and a new “mission” that was about to begin. Shortly thereafter, she took over as the leader of HHS-driven efforts “to build and support partnerships with faith-based and community organizations in order to better serve individuals, families and communities in need.”
Royce’s mission presumably includes promoting extremist anti-LGBTQ views. She told the Atlantic in 2015 that should the Supreme Court rule in favor of same-sex marriage (as they did that year), there would be a “religious-liberty crisis in this country.” She fought against LGBTQ equality well before joining FRC. Her resume includes time spent as the executive director of the Marriage Amendment Project, a coalition that sought to ban same-sex marriage in states.
She has worked with groups that promote religious imposition laws, including the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and the Restore Military Religious Freedom coalition.
In a May 16 post announcing Royce would transition to a role at HHS, FRC President Tony Perkins said she would use “her vast coalition-building experience in defense of solid health care policy.” The anti-choice group falsely asserts that the forms of contraceptives at issue in the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision cause abortions and supports rolling back the ACA’s birth control benefit.
Royce joins Charmaine Yoest and Teresa Manning—two outspoken enemies of reproductive freedoms who have spread myths about abortion and contraceptives—at HHS. Both Manning and Yoest have worked for FRC.
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