Trump taps leading anti-abortion activist for Health and Human Services role

Americans United for Life calls Charmaine Yoest “public enemy #1” for abortion rights organizations.

In this July 1, 2010, file photo, Dr. Charmaine Yoest testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. CREDIT: AP/ Pablo Martinez Monsivais
In this July 1, 2010, file photo, Dr. Charmaine Yoest testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. CREDIT: AP/ Pablo Martinez Monsivais

President Donald Trump has tapped a well-known anti-abortion activist, Charmaine Yoest, for the position of assistant secretary of public affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services.

Yoest is a senior fellow at American Values, a conservative group that says it opposes a “culture of death,” and the former president of Americans United for Life. AUL’s work has been key to moving anti-abortion bills forward on the state level, since it claims to have offered state lawmakers 32 different kinds of anti-abortion model legislation, according to its website.

An Arkansas law requiring doctors to perform abortions to describe the physical characteristics of the patient’s unborn child at the time of their abortion, for example, is based on AUL’s “Women’s Right to Know Act.” Much of the law’s language on what doctors should tell patients is borrowed directly from AUL’s suggestion, according to The Atlantic’s 2015 analysis of AUL’s influence on state legislation.

Other pieces of AUL-inspired legislation ban abortion procedures due to genetic abnormalities, strengthens requirements for parental consent, and limits insurance coverage of abortion. Many of the draft bills pushed by the AUL ha misleading names such as the “Abortion Patients’ Enhanced Safety Act” and the “Women’s Health Defense Act.”


Yoest herself has also worked hard to rebrand anti-abortion activism as advocacy to protect the health and safety of women, rather than advocacy to restrict their medical care.

In a New York Times Magazine profile of Yoest back in 2012, reporter with Emily Bazelon noted that Yoest “is especially good at sounding reasonable rather than extreme. She never deviates from her talking points, never raises her voice and never forgets to smile.” That helped her become the face of what Bazelon described as “a deft reframing of the abortion debate.”

Yoest’s contributions have been key to conservative strategies to claim abortion restrictions are intended to protect women’s health. Anti-abortion groups that push for burdensome and unnecessary restrictions for abortion clinics, such as widening their hallways and applying for unnecessary licenses, claim they are trying to keep abortion clinics safe for women, when the intention is actually to force the clinic to shut down.

This is part of a larger strategy known as the “Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers,” or TRAP, that has spread across the country. Thanks to these restrictions, it’s become harder for people to access abortion clinics, which sometimes forces them to consider unsafe, unsanitary options.

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down this type of law last year in Texas in the landmark case Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt. For the majority opinion, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote that the Texas law serves to “vastly increase the obstacles confronting women seeking abortions in Texas without providing any benefit to women’s health capable of withstanding any meaningful scrutiny.”


Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America released a statement on the appointment.

“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,” Laguens said.

This piece has been updated to include a statement from Planned Parenthood Federation of America.