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Antiabortion activist abruptly steps down as head of HHS’s family planning division

The Department of Health and Human Services in Washington. (Alex Brandon/AP)

This post has been updated.

Teresa Manning — an antiabortion activist in charge of the Health and Human Services Department’s family planning programs — resigned her post Friday, according to a department spokeswoman.

Manning, who served as deputy assistant secretary for the Office of Population Affairs, has spent much of her career fighting abortion and has publicly questioned the efficacy of several popular contraception methods. Her job included overseeing the Title X program, which provides family-planning funding for about 4 million poor Americans or those without health insurance.

In an email Friday evening, HHS spokeswoman Caitlin Oakley confirmed Manning’s resignation but did not provide a reason for her abrupt departure.

“HHS would like to thank her for her service to this Administration and the American people,” Oakley said.

Manning was escorted from the building by security officials Friday.  According to an HHS official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a personnel matter, Manning already had turned in her badge and the escort allowed her to get back out through security.

Her resignation does not appear to represent a major ideological shift in the department, since Valerie Huber, a prominent abstinence education advocate, has been named acting deputy assistant secretary for the Office of Population Affairs. Huber has served as chief of staff in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Health since June.

Manning, who was appointed by President Trump last May, formerly lobbied for the National Right to Life Committee and worked as a legislative analyst for the Family Research Council. She was one of several antiabortion activists and leaders Trump has picked for key positions at the agency.

Like many conservatives who oppose abortion rights, Manning has repeatedly objected to the use of RU-486, or mifepristone, which is often used with misoprostol to trigger an abortion during the early stages of a pregnancy, as well as the morning-after pill.

But she also has expressed deep skepticism of birth control overall, suggesting in a 2003 interview with NPR that “contraception doesn’t work.”

“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,” Manning said at the time.

Abortion-rights activists protested Manning’s appointment, saying someone opposed to contraception shouldn’t oversee Title X.

Her replacement has long advocated for abstinence education. Huber managed Ohio’s abstinence program from 2004 to 2007 and subsequently led Ascend, a group initially founded as the National Abstinence Education Association. She says she prefers to use the term “sexual risk avoidance,” telling Focus on the Family’s Citizen magazine that Ascend’s mission is broader than telling teens not to have sex.

“I bristle at the terminology ‘abstinence only,’ because our programs are so holistic,” Huber said. “They contextualize a whole battery of different topics that surround a young person’s decision whether to have sex or not. Rather than someone telling a young person, ‘Do this, don’t do that,’ it’s casting a vision for a young person’s future.”

Some family planning advocates, such as Ginny Ehrlich, chief executive at the nonprofit Power to Decide, criticized the administration’s decision to put Huber in charge of the Office of Population Affairs.

“Manning’s departure would be positive news except for the fact that the Trump administration has chosen to replace Manning with Valerie Huber, who is well known for placing ideology over an evidence-based approach to ensuring that young people have the information and services they need to avoid an unplanned pregnancy,” said Ehrlich, whose group backs federal support for sex education and a wide range of contraception methods. “What we really need is for this administration to take women’s health issues seriously and appoint an individual who is not only well qualified for the position, but also values women.”

Read more:

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