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Trump picks antiabortion activist to head HHS family planning section

The abortion-inducing RU-486 pill. (Agence France-Presse)

President Trump is placing antiabortion activist Teresa Manning in charge of the Title X program, which provides family planning funding for poor Americans or those without health insurance.

Manning’s selection as the Department of Health and Human Services’ deputy assistant secretary for population affairs, which HHS officially confirmed Tuesday, marks the second agency appointment within a week that has pleased abortion foes and angered abortion rights proponents. On Friday, the White House announced that Trump had picked Charmaine Yoest, former president of Americans United for Life, as the department’s assistant secretary of public affairs.

Manning, a former lobbyist with the National Right to Life Committee and legislative analyst for the conservative Family Research Council, has criticized several family planning methods over the course of her career.

“Of course, contraception doesn’t work,” she said during a 2003 NPR interview. “Its efficacy is very low, especially when you consider over years — which a lot of contraception health advocates want to start women in their adolescent years, when they’re extremely fertile, incidentally, and continue for 10, 20, 30 years. The prospect that contraception would always prevent the conception of a child is preposterous.”

She has repeatedly objected to the use of RU-486, or mifepristone, which is often used with misoprostol to spur an abortion during the early stages of a pregnancy, as well as the morning-after pill.

While working at the Family Research Council, Manning criticized in a 2001 news release the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists for endorsing the idea of advance prescriptions for the morning-after pill, which some women take to prevent pregnancy after having unprotected sex.

“A major, if not dominant, mechanism of the morning-after pill is the destruction of a human life already conceived,” Manning said at the time. “Unfortunately, some groups within the medical profession are aiding the abortion industry by deliberately toying with the terminology of pregnancy: They falsely claim that pregnancy begins upon implantation of the embryonic human being in the uterus, rather than at the time of fertilization when the life is created.”

About 4 million Americans receive family planning coverage through the Title X program, and the majority of them are low-income people and people of color.

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Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser, whose political action committee supports candidates opposed to abortion, welcomed Manning’s appointment.

“Teresa Manning has dedicated her career to standing up for women and for the value of every human life, and we expect her tenure at HHS to embody this administration’s commitment to whole women’s health care,” she said in a statement. “Ms. Manning will bring a fresh approach and ensure that federal actions are balanced and contribute to family health and well-being.”

But abortion rights activists were quick to decry the appointment, which was first reported by Politico.

“The latest way the Trump administration is attacking reproductive health is by appointing two people to the Department of Health and Human Services who want to stand directly in the way of patients getting the health care they need,” said Nancy Stanwood, a board member of Physicians for Reproductive Health.

And Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said in a statement that “Trump is stacking his administration with one extreme, antiabortion activist after another and ignoring the millions of men and women who don’t want to see women’s health and rights go backward.”

“Ms. Manning has repeatedly spread false information about women’s health and advocated for policies that would undermine women’s access to birth control and other essential health care. She is a completely inappropriate choice for this role,” Murray said.

Last month, Trump signed legislation that allows states to withhold federal family-planning dollars from clinics that provide abortion services. That move could deprive Planned Parenthood and other family-planning providers of tens of millions of federal dollars.

Sandhya Somashekhar contributed to this report.