Secret Emails Expose Anti-Abortion Groups’ Influence on Public Health Official

Earlier this month, the Campaign for Accountability—a nonpartisan and nonprofit watchdog organization focused on the ethical misconduct and wrongdoing of public officials—released communications from Dr. Diane Foley, current deputy assistant secretary for population affairs at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Secret Emails Expose Anti-Abortion Groups' Influence on Public Health Official
Dr. Diane Foley, a pro-life OBGYN and Trump appointee, is interested in defunding nation-wide programs that provide birth control. (HHS)

The documents contain correspondence between Foley and anti-abortion organizations—including Focus on the Family, Live Action, Family Research Council and the Heritage Foundation—about the promotion of “natural family planning methods” over hormonal and barrier birth control.

Feminists first raised red flags on Foley back in 2018 when Donald Trump first appointed the former president and CEO of anti-abortion organization Life Network to direct government funding for reproductive health.

Ironically, as the head of the Office of Population Affairs, Foley is in charge of the Title X Family Planning Program, a federal grant program that enables public and non-profit health organizations to provide affordable, comprehensive and effective services.

Services made possible by Title X funding include breast and cervical cancer screenings, pap smears, testing and treatment for STDs, pregnancy tests, access to various forms of birth control as well as confidential counseling on sexual health and prenatal care. As the nation’s only resource dedicated solely to family planning programs, Title X prioritizes low-income and uninsured individuals at a reduced—or no—cost.

Foley’s Emails with Several Anti-Choice Groups

The emails, obtained through FOIA litigation, reveal that since obtaining her leadership position at HHS, Foley has maintained communication with anti-abortion groups, awarded funding for fake crisis pregnancy clinics (instead of actual reproductive health care providers), and undermined the availability of affordable birth control.

Her emails expose a clear violation and misuse of Title X. In fact, Foley wants to decrease Title X funding for contraception methods such as condoms, IUDs and hormonal birth control pills—opting instead for fertility awareness-based methods (FABMs).

In one series of emails, she suggests using smartphone apps that track ovulation as a form of birth control.

“Predicting the precise regularity of [her cycle], for each individual woman — it’s virtually impossible,” Dr. Nathaniel DeNicola, an OB-GYN and the chair of telehealth for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said. (Digital Trends / Flo)

Like any period tracking app, the application would help users track their ovulation and menstrual cycle via self-reporting. These apps rely on women to prevent themselves from getting pregnant by knowing which days they are ovulating and refraining from sexual intercourse on those days. It takes a lot of dedication, effort and meticulous tracking of premenstrual symptoms and body temperature to make FAMBs work as birth control.

Most importantly, even if practiced with typical use, FAMBs are incredibly ineffective—according to the CDC, for every 100 women using this method, 24 women will have an unintended pregnancy.

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These types of phone apps are notorious for permitting invasions of user privacy, leading to the monetization of women’s personal data.

FAMBs are often promoted by people who support abstinence-only sex education—not unexpected, given Foley’s history of opposing reproductive justice. She has gone on record equating informative sex education for students to sexual harassment.

“The Trump administration is determined to promote little-used, cumbersome, and less effective birth control methods at the expense of proven contraceptives preferred by the vast majority of Americans,” says Alice Huling, counsel for the Committee for Accountability.

Foley’s emails additionally reveal communications with anti-abortion organizations such as Life Action, an extremist group known for its undercover videos taken at Planned Parenthood clinics.

Foley also awarded a Title X grant to the Obria Group, which operates a network of fake women’s health centers.

Ultimately, these emails demonstrate Foley’s opposition to the very program she has been tasked with the protection of—a common recurrence seen with Trump appointees. (Recall Trump’s January 2019 appointment of Andrew Wheeler—former energy lobbyist—to run the EPA.)

Only Trump could attempt to justify appointing someone against the use of birth control in charge of distributing birth control.

Foley’s History of Attacking Reproductive Health Services

This administration has slowly—and not so subtly—worked to roll back reproductive rights and limit access to basic health care since the first day Trump stepped into office.

This ramping up of tactics set to undermine Title X is part of a “larger ideological agenda attacking sexual and reproductive health and rights.” It is no accident that the person with the final say on which reproductive health care providers receive government funding has “a long history of opposing sex education and access to abortion.” Foley was a shoo-in.

(@keepbcfree / Instagram)

During her time as CEO of Life Network—an anti-abortion group known for spreading medically inaccurate information about reproductive health, sponsored by an anti-LGBTQ hate group called Focus on the Family—Foley helped run multiple crisis pregnancy centers (fake abortion clinics that attempt to dissuade women from following through with safe and legal abortions by using coercive tactics and falsifying facts).

Secret Emails Expose Anti-Abortion Groups' Influence on Public Health Official
Pro-choice activists protest a crisis pregnancy center. (Ms.)

The Future of Title X?

Sure, FAMBs work for some women, but certainly not all women—prompting the need for Title X to continue providing a range of contraceptive options. Foley’s emails are proof that our current administration is not only anti-abortion, but anti-contraception.

Secret Emails Expose Anti-Abortion Groups' Influence on Public Health Official
In August 2019, Planned Parenthood left the federal Title X family planning program, rather than comply with draconian Trump administration rules regarding abortion counseling. (Sarah Mirk / Flickr)


Violet Rawlings is a junior at Smith College double majoring in the Study of Women & Gender and Film & Media Studies.