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New HHS Strategic Plan: Life Begins at Conception

The Department of Health and Human Services has prepared a controversial draft document that one critic called "a license to discriminate." (Getty Images)

After rolling back the Obama-era birth control mandate on Friday, thus allowing employers to deny birth control coverage to employees based on religious or moral grounds, the Trump administration has made another assault on women’s health care. It has done so in the language included in the Health and Human Services’ draft strategic plan to “improve” American health.

The draft currently presents five goals: enhancing the national health care system; improving the general lifestyles of Americans; scientific advancement; improving national prosperity; and lengthening the average lifespan. But the draft also problematically defines life as beginning at conception—a move largely overlooked by the media.

The HHS strategic plan for 2014 to 2018 said:

HHS accomplishes its mission through programs and initiatives that cover a wide spectrum of activities, serving Americans at every stage of life.

The new draft says:

HHS accomplishes its mission through programs and initiatives that cover a wide spectrum of activities, serving and protecting Americans at every stage of life, beginning at conception.

Conception as the start of life is mentioned again in Goal #3 of the draft, which seems to reflect current HHS Assistant Secretary of Public Affairs Charmaine Yoest’s anti-euthanasia views:

“A core component of the HHS mission is our dedication to serve all Americans from conception to natural death.”

Yoest is not the only HHS appointee with a history of opposition to women’s health. According to Jezebel:

Though Sec. Tom Price has recently departed HHS in a cloud of private plane exhaust, he has, throughout his career as a public servant, fought vigorously against contraceptive access for women. Among other things, Price sponsored the “Right to Life Act” in 2005, a bill that defined life at conception and would give zygotes (or a “preborn human person”) full legal rights with no exception for rape, incest, or threat to a woman’s life; it would make the morning after pill and IUDs illegal, and, as Slate put it, “would put control over women’s bodies—including, perhaps, what she ate, drank, or did while pregnant—in the hands of the state.”

Price leaves behind a department stocked with like-minded individuals, such as Teresa Manning, deputy assistant secretary for population affairs, an anti-abortion activist who once claimed that the “efficacy” of birth control is “very low” and that “family planning is something that occurs between a husband and a wife and God.” Other HHS appointments include Charmaine Yoest, the former president of Americans United for Life, former Republican Rep. John Fleming, another anti-abortion activist, and Valerie Huber, an abstinence education advocate.

There is a great deal of language prioritizing the protection of faith-based communities over the rights of women in the draft. One section of Objective 1.3 reads:

Implement Executive Order 13798 of May 4, 2017, Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty, and identify and remove barriers to, or burdens imposed on, the exercise of religious beliefs and/or moral convictions by persons or organizations partnering with, or served by HHS, and affirmatively accommodate such beliefs and convictions, to ensure full and active engagement of persons of faith or moral conviction and of faith-based organizations in the work of HHS.

Politico writes that this language is common in Price’s conservative legacy at HHS:

A “draft strategic plan” for HHS, published before Price resigned last week, references “faith” or “faith-based” organizations more than 40 times in its five-year statement of priorities. The Obama administration’s last strategic plan contained only three such references.

Susan Berke Fogel, director of reproductive health at the National Health Law Program, told Politico, “This is a license to discriminate. All of that language brings back all of these things that we’ve seen in the past that are just incongruous with really protecting health care and really improving people’s lives.”

 

Emily Wells
​Emily Wells is an Ear to the Ground blogger at Truthdig. As a journalist, she began as a crime reporter at the Pulitzer-winning daily newspaper, The Press-Enterprise...
Emily Wells

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