Conservative Catholic Influence in the USA
As the Trump administration continues to staff senior positions, it is noteworthy how many key figures are ultraconservative Catholics. These people bend the ear of the president and shape key conversations and policies on abortion and access to women’s healthcare.
Assistant and Chief Strategist
Prior to his appointment as Trump’s chief strategist, one of the most powerful advisory positions in the administration, Bannon was known for his management of the far-right news outlet, Breitbart News. Under Bannon’s leadership, the news source published articles comparing the work at Planned Parenthood clinics to a “sinister pattern of black genocide,” demonstrated support for the videos from the Center for Medical Progress, later discredited in court, that were used in a smear campaign against Planned Parenthood and alleged that “contraceptives in drinking water is causing infertility among those who want to have babies, [meaning] a legal revolution against the pill could occur.” His news outlet also claimed to “prove with the power of science that religious folk were right all along and that science has a little-known but undeniable Roman Catholic bias” because birth control makes women “fat,” “unsexy” and “slut[s].” Despite his history of promoting fake, deceptive and crude news, in his new role at the White House, Bannon has attempted to flip the script by claiming that the media is a dishonest “opposition party,” and stating that it “should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while.”
White House Press Secretary, Communications Director
Prior to joining Trump’s administration as White House press secretary and communications director, Spicer served as the communications director of the Republic National Committee. During his first official press conference in the administration, when asked if he pledged to tell the truth in his position, Spicer’s response left many baffled when he stated that “sometimes we [the administration] disagree with the facts.” In the same press conference, he discussed Trump’s reinstatement of the Mexico City Policy and seemed to indeed have facts of his own regarding the policy. He claimed the Mexico City Policy, otherwise known as the “global gag rule,” “will end the use of taxpayer dollars to fund abortion overseas, along with coercive abortion and sterilization practices.” Yet, taxpayer dollars have not gone to abortion services since 1973, when the Helms Amendment was enacted. In fact, reinstating this policy has no effect on US taxpayer dollars, but instead restricts the most vulnerable women in the world from accessing health services.
The primary responsibility of the press secretary is to act as spokesperson for the executive branch of the US government to the media. Spicer himself stated that “we have to be honest with the American people” and his “intention is never to lie” to the media.
White House Domestic Policy Council for Healthcare Policy
Talento comes into her position with 20 years’ experience in public health and health policy. This experience, however, does not contain a history of sound healthcare advisement.
In 2003, while staffing the Senate Health Committee, Talento played a key role in an effort to defund HIV/AIDS research funding, claiming that the “largest grantees and contractors of USAID are involved in [lobbying for the legalization of prostitution],” and stating that she had the documentation to prove it. There were no instances of groups using US funds to advocate for legalization of prostitution, yet research organizations like HHS and NIH became burdened with tedious document production in resulting investigations to counter Talento’s false statements.
More recently, Talento published an article discussing how “chemical birth control causes abortions and often has terrible side effects, including deliberate miscarriage,” citing an antiabortion web article as her source of information and seemingly ignoring a statement by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists affirming that using “birth control pills before getting pregnant does not cause early pregnancy loss.” Talento went further, warning that taking birth control will reduce one’s ability to have a baby in the future, whereas the majority of the medical community agrees that taking birth control is not correlated with future infertility risks.
Counselor to the President
Conway, Republican political activist and strategist, has worked to sharpen messaging in the antichoice movement for decades. Yet, as we see in many antichoice efforts, her messages aren’t necessarily grounded in truth.
Now acting as counselor to the president, she demonstrated her misguided facts during an interview on the March for Life. Explaining reasons for her participation in the march, Conway stated that “Partial-birth abortions, sex-selection abortions.… Taxpayer-funded abortion and fetal pain abortion, where nonpartisan and nonpolitical scientists and physicians have said an unborn baby can feel pain at 20 weeks” are not a reflection of America’s foundation.
Apart from the fact that “partial-birth” is a nonmedical term fabricated to stigmatize later-term abortions, and that reports of “sex-selection” abortions are unfounded, Conway’s facts on taxpayer funding for abortion and fetal pain are completely inaccurate. The Hyde Amendment prohibits any federal funds from covering abortion care, with a few extreme exceptions, and nearly two-thirds of the country follows this standard at the state level to exclude any state funding for abortions.
On top of that, nonpartisan and nonpolitical scientists and physicians have conducted rigorous scientific reviews of the evidence on fetal pain, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and the Journal of Maternal-Fetal and Neonatal Medicine, and by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, concluding as recently as 2012 that fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester.
Conway’s powerful presence in the Trump administration will influence antichoice messaging and legislative priorities.
Office of Management and Budget Director (Pending Confirmation)
Mulvaney, likely director of the Office of Management and Budget in Trump’s new administration, has a long history of legislating against women’s access to reproductive health services. While acting as a state senator for South Carolina, he led the efforts for an “Informed Choice Bill,” requiring women to review an ultrasound prior to having an abortion. He continued to attack and restrict women’s health services while serving in Congress as a US representative for the state of South Carolina, where Mulvaney sat on the Pro-Life Caucus. He worked to ensure no federal funds went towards abortion and further opposed entities like Planned Parenthood, which performs abortions paid for by private funds, from receiving Title X family planning funds even though this money is used for contraceptive services, supplies and information for some of the most vulnerable in communities nationwide. Most recently in 2015, he introduced a measure to strip funding from Planned Parenthood based on misinformation about the organization’s practices in harvesting fetal tissue.
Mulvaney’s support for legislation that denies people their rights doesn’t stop there—he pushed for the First Amendment Defense Act, which would protect an institution’s ability to discriminate against LGBTQ people based on the institution’s beliefs about marriage. His newfound leadership of the federal budget will surely leave the most marginalized and vulnerable behind.