The Trump administration’s pick to run the federal family planning program known as Title X compared abortion to slavery and the Holocaust, according to a memo shared exclusively with Tonic by Washington Senator Patty Murray.
The memo outlines the ways in which Diane Foley, a political appointee with extreme and medically inaccurate views on women’s health, could reshape the nation’s only source of federal funding for family planning services, including low- or no-cost birth control, STD testing and treatment, and breast and cervical cancer screenings. The program serves 4 million people each year, primarily low-income women and women of color.
Title X grants already can’t be used for abortions but changes proposed in May from the administration would mean that health centers that provide abortion with non-federal funds or even refer patients where to get an abortion would be blocked from applying for the grant money. This change, coupled with guidelines that prioritize programs that focus on abstinence-only sex ed and natural family planning and remove the requirement to offer the full range of FDA-approved birth control methods, could mean that deceptive crisis pregnancy centers may be eligible for family planning funding for the first time. Overall, the changes and Foley’s appointment could shift the Title X program from being evidence based to one that is rooted in ideology.
Foley is a pediatrician and, until 2017, was the president and CEO of Life Network, a Christian anti-choice group that operates two crisis pregnancy centers in Colorado. Life Network offers “sexual risk avoidance programming,” aka abstinence-only sex ed, for middle and high school students, and its crisis pregnancy centers try to convince pregnant women not to have abortions.
Foley was appointed in late May and her official title is deputy assistant secretary for population affairs, or DASPA; the person in that role oversees the Title X program. As Tonic reported in March, the DASPA now has the final say on which groups will be awarded Title X grants for the first time since the late 80s; since then, grant decisions had been made in consultation with a group of officials.
Watch Diane Foley's 2016 interview with VICE News:
Foley falsely believes that abortion has long-lasting physical and mental health effects and the new memo—prepared by Democratic staff of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP)—outlines even more of her extreme, inaccurate views.
The report cites a September 2016 presentation at Charis Bible College in which Foley compared a constitutionally protected medical procedure to targeting people for lifelong servitude or execution based exclusively on their race or religion (starting at 36:30).
“People who are very adamant about abortion will say, ‘this is an issue of women’s rights.’ It’s which life has more value,” Foley said. “That sounds a lot like what our nation went through in the 1800s, right? When somebody decided somebody’s life wasn’t worth living or they weren’t [worth] quite as much—they were worth what, three-fifths of a human? Is that right? What about what was happening in Europe during the World Wars, where there [were] groups of people that were determined they weren’t worth as much?”
According to the memo, Foley was also critical of adoption as an option for unintended pregnancy—something anti-choicers often suggest as an alternative to abortion—saying it was worse than choosing to continue a pregnancy. In the same September 2016 speech, she outlined the three choices people have: parent the child, give it up for adoption, or have an abortion (starting at 38:00). She said that having the baby is thought of as “death to [the parents] and the life they thought they were going to have,” adding, “The next choice is, let’s do an adoption plan. Well, that’s a double death, because not only does it interrupt [the parents] plans for the next several months, right? But then their child is going to be adopted, and they’re going to grow up thinking they’ve been abandoned by their parents. So they’re going to have all kinds of issues with their life. So that’s a double death. That’s worse.” She did not criticize adoption in such a way while on camera with VICE News earlier that year.
The report also outlined more of Foley’s views on sex ed. “The only thing contraceptive education helps with is the physical consequences of sexual activity,” Foley said in a 2009 interview, adding that condoms offer inadequate protection against STIs and that sexual activity among teens can have permanently damaging effects. She also said of comprehensive sex ed programs that she thinks such education “encourages kids to have sex.” In a 2010 interview she claimed that it’s ineffective to teach condom use alongside abstinence. “I don't think you can do those two things in the same class setting, because I think the message of waiting for sex gets diluted if you are saying, ‘But, just in case, use a condom.’” Meanwhile, study after study shows that abstinence-only sex ed not only fails to delay the age at which teenagers have sex, it also doesn’t reduce rates of unintended pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases.
Before she was the CEO of Life Network, Foley ran the organization’s abstinence-only education program. Its five-day high school program tells students that “premarital sex makes you prone to infidelity while reducing your ability to bond with your future spouse,” according to the report.
Murray is the ranking member of the HELP Committee and her office previously released a report highlighting the ideological views of birth control skeptic and former Title X head Teresa Manning, who has since left the administration, and Charmaine Yoest, the former head of public affairs for the Department of Health and Human Services who believed IUDs cause abortions, who is now working in Office of National Drug Control Policy. These appointees spent their careers opposing birth control and abortion.
In a letter to colleagues today about the new memo on Foley, Murray said she was writing to ensure Senators were “aware of the harmful, inaccurate views” held by the political appointee recently put in charge of the federal family planning program. “Especially in light of the Supreme Court vacancy and President Trump's repeated commitments to strike down Roe v. Wade, it is more important than ever that we work together to shine a spotlight on the Trump-Pence Administration's constant efforts to undermine women's access to reproductive healthcare,” she wrote.
“This appointment is particularly concerning given that under the Administration's proposed policy changes, this appointee, Dr. Diane Foley, will be empowered to impose her deeply harmful views on women and young people,” she said, adding, “Her efforts to spread misinformation, undermine women's access to basic healthcare services, and roll back women's reproductive rights are especially dangerous given the office she now leads.”
Tonic contacted an HHS spokesperson for comment by email and did not hear back by the time of publication. We'll update this story with a response should we receive one.
Read Murray’s full letter below:
Read the full memo below:
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