Even after Halloween, is there anything scarier than an abstinence-only ideologue pushing her worldview onto the Department of Health and Human Services? Because that’s exactly what Valerie Huber has been doing behind the scenes:
Valerie Huber is an abstinence-only crusader who has made a career out of fighting access to evidence-based, comprehensive teen pregnancy prevention programs.
Prior to joining the Trump administration, Huber was the abstinence education coordinator for the state of Ohio (yes, that was a state-funded role). By her own admission, she was “infusing her Christian beliefs into this program” and used it to advocate for “the biblical standard of abstinence until marriage.” There, she oversaw programs that Case Western Reserve University researchers found had provided “false and misleading information,” perpetuated “destructive, inaccurate gender stereotypes,” and presented “religious convictions as scientific fact.” One frightening curriculum said that teenagers who have sex before marriage should “be prepared to die.” Ms. Huber left the Ohio Department of Health after it determined that she had committed “neglect of duty.”
Huber formed and led the National Abstinence Education Association, which she later rebranded “Ascend” to disguise its abstinence-only focus. At the time she was asked to join the Trump administration, she was serving as the group’s president and CEO. Planned Parenthood Action has described the group as the “premier” abstinence-only-until-marriage group. Under Huber’s leadership, Ascend successfully pushed legislation in Tennessee that threatened $500 fines for programs that include education about birth control and other “gateway sexual activity.” Jones also tried, unsuccessfully, to push similar legislation in her home state of Ohio.
Seeing an ally in President Trump, Huber actively lobbied the administration before joining it.
Documents we uncovered show that, both directly and through intermediaries, Huber repeatedly lobbied political appointees at HHS in early 2017 to “eliminate” HHS’s Office of Adolescent Health and the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program—an evidence-based, Congressionally-mandated teen sexual education program that OAH administers. Falsely claiming that President Obama had “place[d] 100% of federal funding …on a sex education approach that normalizes teen sex,” Huber argued that the “current federal sex education … on ‘harm reduction’ … normalizes risky behavior.” In early 2017, prior to joining the administration, she also met with Trump appointees to discuss her request to “immediately halt” the TPP Program.
Then Trump put her in charge of the programs she wanted to eliminate.
In June 2017, Trump appointed Huber to serve as chief of staff to the assistant secretary of health—her first role serving in the federal government. Just two months later, her office cut 81 Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program grants to evidence-based sex ed programs, despite the success of the program and bipartisan support from Congress. Terminating the TPP Program grants en masse to push Huber’s abstinence-only-until-marriage agenda would have denied nearly one million young people nationwide the services and resources that have helped reduce the teen pregnancy rate. And she and other political staff did so while excluding career officials from the process.
Those cuts were illegal. We sued to stop the administration from terminating the grants and to restore funding to our clients, King County, WA, the City of Baltimore, MD (co-counseling with the City Solicitor’s Office), and Healthy Teen Network. And we won.
Then, just one day after their first court loss, HHS tried to circumvent the court’s ruling by announcing new criteria for awarding future grants that would have unlawfully funded untested, abstinence-only content. So we sued again, this time on behalf of Multnomah County, Oregon. And we won, again.
Even after Huber directed these unlawful actions, HHS shifted more power to her.
In March 2018, Politico reported that Huber had been granted the final say in Title X grants, the federal government’s family planning funds. Huber’s power expanded just weeks after HHS announced new guidelines for how it would assess Title X grants—guidelines that favored “natural family planning” efforts like the rhythm method or the “calendar method” over other common, effective contraceptive methods.
Now, Huber is taking her crusade international.
In early 2019, Huber moved to HHS’s Office of Global Affairs as a Senior Policy Advisor. That office “is the diplomatic voice of the Department of Health and Human Services.” Needless to say, having an anti-science, Bible-bound ideologue advising HHS’s voice to the world is concerning, with Planned Parenthood noting she could “censor information about reproductive health and sex education out of HHS’s global print and online materials, and push to remove these topics in international health and human rights documents.”
We exposed Huber’s and other appointees’ undue influence at HHS through our own Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.
Here’s what else we still want to know:
- What anti-science priorities has Huber been pushing in her newest role
- What role has Huber played in funneling HHS funds to her friends and allies?
- Documents we’ve uncovered show Huber met with expensive, GOP-connected communications firms used by HHS. What did they discuss?