Trump’s Pro-Abstinence HHS Appointee Fits an Unnerving ‘Pattern’

Jennifer Gerson Uffalussy
Contributing Writer
Photo by Ian Waldie/Getty Images

On Tuesday, the Trump administration quietly appointed Valerie J. Huber as chief of staff for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Health within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Huber most recently served as president and CEO of Ascend, an organization focused on promoting abstinence-only education in schools. She was previously the abstinence-education coordinator for the state of Ohio, where she oversaw abstinence programs for more than 100,000 students per year.

Valerie J. Huber ( Photo: NAEA.com)

In a memo to HHS staffers by Acting Health Secretary Doug Wright, he called Ascend “a Washington DC-based professional association that champions youth to make healthy life and relationship decisions.”

But abstinence-only education — or what many on the far right call “sexual risk avoidance” — is seen by many health advocates as ineffective, and frequently leave out certain demographics of young people that are especially vulnerable, including LGBTQ teens and pregnant and parenting teens.

Why Experts Are Concerned 

Diana Thu-Thao Rhodes, the director of public policy for Advocates for Youth, says there is a pattern not only of Trump appointees being named to offices whose very mission they seem to oppose, but also one emerging among HHS appointees specifically who are united in their opposition to contraception.

“There is definitely in HHS and the Trump administration a focus on rolling back birth control coverage and access to contraception in general,” Thu-Thao Rhodes says. “And yet another pattern of this administration is that they don’t see contraception as a preventative service and integral to women’s health. There’s a pattern here of people being appointed to key positions by the administration who think this way.”



Echoes Leslie Kantor, PhD, MPH, and the Vice President of Education at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, “At Planned Parenthood, we are very concerned about an increasing number of anti-women’s health, anti-sex education, anti-science appointments in the Trump administration.”


Last month, Teresa Manning was tapped as deputy assistant secretary for population affairs at HHS, the role that oversees the administration of Title X, the national family planning program. In a 2003 interview, Manning stated on the record that she believes that contraception doesn’t work. Manning has also criticized the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists for recommending that prescribers offer advance prescriptions of the morning-after pill and has called emergency contraception “medically irresponsible” and “anti-family.”

Charmaine Yoest
, Trump’s appointee to serve as assistant secretary of public affairs for HHS, is opposed to intrauterine devices (IUDs) as a form of birth control and has falsely said that they have “life-ending properties.” As noted in a memo circulated to Senate Democrats from the staff of the minority members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee earlier this week, “IUDs do not work after implantation and therefore cannot end pregnancies. Additionally, recent data from the Guttmacher Institute found that unplanned pregnancies are at a 30-year low, largely a result of an increase in the use of long-acting reversible contraceptives like IUDs. The [Affordable Care Act] has been critical in increasing access to IUDs by removing cost barriers for women seeking contraceptive services.”

HHS Secretary Tom Price has also spoken on the record about his opposition to the contraception mandate of the ACA, telling a reporter in 2012 that “there’s not one woman” who does not have access to birth control — and thus does not need it guaranteed as part of her insurance coverage at no cost. Price is also vehemently outspoken on his opposition to federal funding for Planned Parenthood and his support of seeing the organization dropped as not just a Medicaid provider, but also a Title X provider. Planned Parenthood serves more than 40 percent of Title X patients, including teens, despite making up just 13 percent of all Title X health centers.

And Dr. Scott Gottlieb, Trump’s appointee to head the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), has repeatedly insisted in his own words that the contraception mandate of the ACA harms women’s health.


“These appointments have an enormous impact on the lives and future success of young people in our nation,” Ginny Ehrlich, CEO of The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, tells Yahoo Beauty in a statement. “We hope these officials will exercise their responsibilities in a way that builds on past successes in reducing teen and unplanned pregnancy, rather than going backwards.”

Bipartisan Support for Comprehensive Sex Ed

According to the Guttmacher Institute, research “suggests that strategies that promote abstinence-only outside of marriage while withholding information about contraceptives do not stop or even delay sex. Moreover, abstinence-only programs can actually place young people at increased risk of pregnancy and STIs.”

“The point of sex education is that you want to get to young people before they become sexually active. You don’t want them to get critical information after the fact,” Kantor says. “Good sex ed lays the groundwork throughout childhood and the teen years so that when you’re in the situation when you’re in a relationship and navigating and negotiating having sex for the first time, you are well prepared and have all the information you need to protect yourself.”

Adds Kantor, “There was a very, very important change in the country in 2010 when for the first time, rather than pouring money into abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, money started to be appropriated for evidence-based approaches — approaches found to help young people change their behavior either by delaying sex or by using condoms and contraception when having sex. We don’t want to see things roll backwards to the bad old days of abstinence-only-until-marriage education.”

January 2017 polling by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy found that 85 percent of American adults — including 89 percent of Democrats and 75 percent of Republicans — favor maintaining federal funding for the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program and the Personal Responsibility Education Program, both of which utilize evidence-based, comprehensive sex education curricula.

Furthermore, the National Campaign’s polling found that 79 percent of Americans — including 81 percent of Democrats and 73 percent of Republicans — believe that teens should receive more information about abstinence and birth control and sexually transmitted infection protection.

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