Who Is Charmaine Yoest, & What Will She Do?

by Annamarya Scaccia

President Donald Trump announced on Friday that a well-known anti-choice activist will serve as assistant secretary for public affairs at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Coming on the heels of Neil Gorusch's confirmation as U.S. Supreme Court justice, this latest development solidifies Trump's promise to undo reproductive rights in the United States. So who is Charmaine Yoest? The former president and CEO of Americans United for Life (AUL), an anti-choice legal and advocacy group, is a staunch abortion opponent who wants to see the procedure banned completely.

Rewire reported that Yoest will serve as HHS's Secretary Tom Price's "principal counsel on public affairs," communicating his policy decisions, shaping the agency's public persona, and providing leadership and strategy direction. Her top position within the Trump administration has many pro-choice advocates even more concerned about the future of reproductive health; according to Rewire, Yoest is known to use junk science to make her case against abortion, and "'makes no room'" for exceptions for rape, incest, or to preserve a parent's life.

She's also largely responsible for the wave of anti-abortion restrictions that has been implemented nationwide. As leader of AUL, Yoest had overseen the group's work to push out anti-choice model legislation that has threatened access to comprehensive reproductive health across the country, according to Rewire. (In 2016, she left the AUL to serve as a senior fellow at the anti-choice, anti-LGBTQ nonprofit American Values, according to Mother Jones.)

The AUL is infamous for its work around "Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers" — or TRAP — laws. According to Think Progress, legislators have based TRAP bills largely on language used in AUL's model legislation, “The Abortion Providers’ Privileging Act." Mother Jones also reported that, in 2011, 24 out of 92 anti-abortion laws were directly linked to the AUL. Although the federal courts have mostly blocked the AUL's efforts over the years, Yoest and her group have still been successful in influencing state and federal lawmakers against abortion and reproductive health care.

In response to Yoest's appointment, Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said in a statement,

Trump has broken nearly all of his promises to the American people in his first 100 days, but he has certainly stuck to his pledge to erode the constitutional right to abortion, punishing women in the process. This nomination helps fulfill that twisted promise and speaks volumes about the Trump administration’s continued disdain for reproductive freedom and women’s rights.

Hogue's comment is echoed by Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. According to ThinkProgress, Laguens said in a statement,

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.

Yoest's role within HHS is no doubt a threat to reproductive health. Even though she is only serving as the agency's public affairs specialist, she is in close proximity to key decision makers who have the power to dismantle health care as we know it. Not only will Yoest shape the agency's communications efforts and relationship with the public, she could now push her anti-abortion agenda from inside the White House.