President Trump announced Friday that he will appoint Charmaine Yoest, one of the nation’s most prominent antiabortion activists, to a high-level post in the Department of Health and Human Services.
Yoest, a former Reagan administration official who until last year was president of Americans United for Life, will serve as assistant secretary of public affairs. In that position, she will help develop a communications strategy for the sprawling agency that includes Medicaid, Medicare, the Affordable Care Act and family planning programs.
During her nearly eight years at the helm of AUL, the organization was pivotal in pushing Republican-led states to enact restrictions on abortion in the name of women’s safety. The organization developed model legislation to require women to undergo ultrasounds before obtaining the procedure and to cut off government funding to Planned Parenthood, among other actions.
Yoest was one of Trump’s most outspoken supporters during the 2016 presidential campaign, helping to shore up his reputation with social conservatives. She serves as a senior fellow at American Values, a conservative nonprofit that opposes abortion rights and supports “traditional marriage.”
The appointment was greeted with cheers from antiabortion groups, which praised the choice as evidence that Trump was making good on his promise to promote antiabortion causes, despite previously supporting abortion rights.
In a statement, Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, called Yoest one of the movement’s most powerful communicators and lauded her “groundbreaking efforts to advance pro-life, pro-woman legislation at the state level.”
“This is a new era for the pro-life movement and our fight to protect unborn children and their mothers from the horror of abortion,” Dannenfelser said.
Abortion rights groups expressed concern in equal measure.
“Charmaine Yoest has spoken at length about her desire to ban abortion in this country and has spent her career working to abolish women’s most basic constitutional right to bodily autonomy,” Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said in a statement.
Yoest, a breast cancer survivor and mother of five who lives in Virginia, holds a PhD in government from the University of Virginia. She has been an outspoken proponent of the view that abortion is harmful to women and that regulations on abortion clinics are necessary to protect women’s safety.
Abortion rights groups have accused Yoest of using those points to conceal her ultimate agenda: to undermine women’s access to abortion. Based on AUL’s model bills, states have imposed such strict regulations that abortion clinics in Texas and elsewhere have closed. The organization also has championed laws requiring that aborted fetuses be buried or cremated rather than disposed of like medical waste.
In an interview with The Washington Post last year, Yoest said her belief that abortion is wrong does not preclude her from also caring about women. Those who accuse her of feigning support for women are trying to muzzle her movement, she said.
“Why could we not care about how women are being hurt in abortion clinics and still be pro-life?” she asked. “It’s designed to shut our voices down.”