President Donald Trump on Friday announced that he will appoint Charmaine Yoest, the former president of the anti-abortion group Americans United for Life, as the assistant secretary for public affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services.
In her position, which does not require confirmation in the Senate, Yoest would help shape the department’s communications strategy.
Yoest is currently a fellow at American Values, a conservative group that opposes abortion and supports “traditional marriage.” She got her start in politics during the Reagan administration. From there she moved to the ultra-conservative Family Research Council and later served on Mike Huckabee’s 2008 presidential campaign.
While she served as president of Americans United for Life, one of the most well-known anti-abortion groups in the country, Yoest was a prominent leader for the anti-abortion movement. As the New York Times noted in a 2012 profile of Yoest, AUL was responsible for one-third of state legislatures’ anti-abortion bills between 2011 and 2012.
In 2012, Yoest told the New York Times that she believes abortions can cause breast cancer. When the Times noted that data show that claim isn’t true, Yoest would not back down and said that scientists are “under the control of the abortion lobby.”
“As a breast cancer survivor, the spin on abortion and breast cancer really troubles me,” she told the Times. “Why can’t you report what the research actually shows?”
Yoest also told PBS in 2011 that she was unwilling to address birth control as part of her work at Americans United for Life when the host asked if she would support birth control as a way to prevent abortions.
“It’s really a red herring that the abortion lobby likes to bring up by conflating abortion and birth control. And that’s why we try to stay very clear on differentiating between the two, and what is and is not an abortion,” Yoest said on PBS. “Because that would be, frankly, carrying water for the other side to allow them to redefine the issue in that way.”
Asked again in 2015 by the Washington Post about studies showing that birth control reduces the abortion rate, Yoest said she hadn’t “seen anything” to convince her that was true.
Though Americans United for Life does not have an official stance on birth control, the New York Times reported in 2012 that Yoest personally opposed birth control and that she described IUDs as having “ life-ending properties.”
In a Time op-ed co-written with Rep. Diane Black (R-TN) in December 2016, Yoest characterized abortion as a “war on women.”
“We know that abortion is not a means of female empowerment; it is a heartbreaking choice that ends one life and can damage another—and that is the true war on women,” they wrote in the op-ed.
“Roe v. Wade leaves a sad legacy in its wake. The lives lost are many, the emotional and physical damage to birthmothers is real, and the obstacles in our fight to restore a culture of life still loom large,” Yoest and Black add later in the op-ed promoting the March for Life.
Democrats and pro-choice groups quickly denounced Trump’s appointment of Yoest on Friday, with Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) calling the appointment of a “an anti-abortion activist known for spreading misinformation” to the post “troubling.”
NARAL President Ilyse Hogue said that Yoest’s appointment “speaks volumes about the Trump administration’s continued disdain for reproductive freedom and women’s rights.” Dawn Laguens, an executive vice president at Planned Parenthood, said in a statement that it’s “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.”
This post has been updated.
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