What Is The HHS' Strategic Plan? Its Line About Contraception Is Making Waves
Earlier this month, the Department of Health and Human Services shared its first strategic draft concerning the agency's plan to "improve" the general health of Americans across the nation. The strategy currently comprises five "goals" which fall under the structural umbrella of enhancing the country's health care system, improving the general lifestyles of citizens, making "advances" in science, promoting "efficient" management that could improve national prosperity, and strengthening the American lifespan. But if you look beyond the bureaucratic language of the draft, you'll see that the Department of Health and Human Services' draft defines life at conception. It's a development that has been generally overlooked in media outlets.
The draft is set for the year 2018 till 2022 while its third strategic goal falls under the title, "Strengthen the Economic and Social Well-Being of Americans across the Lifespan." It sounds nice, even inspiring, upon first glance. Who wouldn't like a better and richer lifespan in our economy where human life is often cut short by poor health and inaccessibility to health facilities? But a closer look at the draft reveals something disturbing in the current department's outlook on when, specifically, life begins. This could have incredible consequences for pro-choice women's advocacy groups.
Here's how. In the current third strategic goal of the draft, the department said that its "dedication [is] to serve all Americans from conception to natural death, but especially those individuals and populations facing or at high risk for economic and social well-being challenges, through effective human services."
As Jezebel pointed out, this wasn't always the case. Under Barack Obama's administration, the department said, "HHS accomplishes its mission through programs and initiatives that cover a wide spectrum of activities, serving Americans at every stage of life." Now it says, "HHS accomplishes its mission through programs and initiatives that cover a wide spectrum of activities, serving and protecting Americans at every stage of life, beginning at conception."
Here "beginning at conception" is not simply an innocuous addition to the new draft; it is a purposefully-used rhetorical device that can and most likely will be used against women, particularly low-income individuals, seeking birth control. And we already have proof of such a move from Donald Trump's presidency as, on Friday, reports indicated that the administration decided to step back from an Obama-era federal mandate that required employers to cover employees' birth control.
In simple words, this roll-back now allows employers to deny women insurance coverage for their contraception. Employers now have the institutional power to refuse to cover such medical services on moral or religious grounds. It's nothing surprising coming from Trump who, as The New York Times noted, vowed five months ago that his administration would "not allow people of faith to be targeted, bullied or silenced anymore." Trump's promise came under his religious liberty executive order which would give employers carte blanche to cover or deny contraceptive care for employees.
The strategic draft's definition of life "beginning at conception" combined with the Trump administration's rolling back of the federal mandate on birth control could have disastrous implications for health policies geared toward women. It could take control over her body and choices away from a woman and place it right into the hands of the government and employers who, on grounds of moral or religious reasoning, could deny her access to critical reproductive health care. We have seen the dangers of companies defining birth control as murder before in spite of reports of women reaping health benefits out of contraception.
The current HHS draft is open for public opinion and comment. So, if you feel strongly about the women's autonomy and personhood, you can leave your thoughts as a citizen in the box below the draft, which remains open for fall.