The Department of Health and Human Services published its 2018-2022 strategic plan draft last month and opened up the document for public comment through the end of October. One change to the document stands out because of its absurd focus on junk science.
In the “Organizational Structure” section from current draft’s introduction, the department has added language asserting that life begins at conception.
The wording change was first spotted by Ob/GYN Dr. Jen Gunter, who first noted the word change on her blog. “Beginning at conception,” has been appended to the first sentence of this section. That important change can have big consequences.
While the change has no legal ramifications, it offers a clear roadmap for where the HHS is heading. The wording stands directly in line with the “personhood” movement, an anti-abortion group that focuses on granting legal rights to fetuses by defining life as beginning when an egg is fertilized. The group targets not only pregnancy but also some forms of contraception.
Personhood has won over some supporters by standing firm on the idea that many common forms of contraception are actually abortifacients, a claim that contradicts widespread medical consensus. In August, the New England Journal of Medicine published a piece in which it clearly explained why this “alternative science” was incorrect. The journal said abortion opponents are “making up their own definitions for abortifacient and pregnancy and then using them to justify refusals to fill prescriptions or offer insurance coverage for contraceptives.”
At least a dozen states have attempted to pass personhood amendments and all of their efforts have failed. Lawmakers have even attempted to take their personhood bills to the state and federal levels, with nothing close to success.
Among those people who have attempted to pass personhood laws was disgraced HHS Secretary Tom Price. During his short-lived HHS tenure, Price submitted a draft proposal for personhood on September 26. Price resigned from his position after carelessly spending $1 million of taxpayer dollars on private flights.
The fact that Donald Trump hired Price in the first place is telling of this administrations focus on anti-science rhetoric. In 2005, Price co-sponsored the Right to Life Act, that defined life as beginning at conception. If the bill would have passed zygotes would have received full legal rights and protections. Any birth control that might expel an already-fertilized egg would have become illegal, including the IUD or the morning-after pill. Price is also an active member of the anti-abortion Association of American Physicians and Surgeons. In 2003, that organization defined life as beginning at the time of conception.
Sadly, Tom Price isn’t the only member of the HHS that supports personhood rights for fertilized eggs. Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, Charmaine Yoest is a longtime anti-abortion advocate who also backs personhood.
Teresa Manning, the deputy assistant secretary of HHS’s Office of Population Affairs has called the morning-after pills abortifacients that “destroy the human life already conceived.”
The medical community largely disagrees with all of these assertions, clearly notice that pills only prevent fertilization.
The HHS has remained quiet about its recent wording changes but notes that this is still only a public draft of a potential final set of instructions.
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