Abstinence Activist and HHS Official Valerie Huber is Now Pushing Her Message on a Global Stage

The United Nations Commission on the Status of Women—described as the world’s “single largest gathering dedicated to women’s rights”—is meeting this week to draft its annual document, and the delegates from the U.S. are already royally fucking things up, continuing the Trump administration’s work of attacking reproductive rights around the world.

At an event held last week as part of the UN commission’s gathering, Health and Human Services official and prominent abstinence-only advocate Valerie Huber pushed the administration’s anti-abortion message, highlighting its goal of “protecting life,” according to the Washington Post. As the Post put it, her work is “part of a bold new effort by the Trump administration to build an international coalition to restrict access to abortion and promote traditional values about the family.”

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From the Washington Post:

Over the past few months, Huber and other U.S. officials have traveled the world inviting other nations to join the cause. In meetings, according to people privy to the discussions who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the negotiations, Huber, who previously founded an abstinence-only sex education group, has explained that “health and rights mean different things to different people.”

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That effort includes stripping language referencing “universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights” from the commission’s annual document, as well as replacing the term “gender-responsive” with “family-centered.” The Guardian is also reporting that Huber and the rest of the U.S. delegation, which includes the anti-abortion, anti-trans activist Bethany Kozma, a senior advisor in U.S. AID’s Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment office, are looking to replace the term “gender” with “references only to women and girls”—a not-so veiled attack on trans rights. According to the Post, the U.S. delegation has the support of officials from Bahrain, Malaysia, and Saudi Arabia, which is not a worrisome sign at all!

But it gets even worse. Via the Guardian:

In draft documents, seen by the Guardian, the US is taking a step further at CSW by refusing to reaffirm the country’s commitment to the landmark Beijing declaration and platform for action, agreed at the fourth world conference of women held in 1995.

The Beijing agreement is regarded as the blueprint for global women’s rights. Although it is not legally binding, the document is used widely by activists to hold their governments to account on policy related to women.

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The Guardian understands the US also wants references to migration and climate change completely removed from the CSW document.

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As PassBlue wrote, “As the conference unfolds, it is clear the U.S. government delegation is using the forum to tighten women’s reproductive rights.”

Valerie Huber is just one of many rightwing ideologists who have been installed in HHS and are now looking to export their anti-abortion, pro-abstinence ideology to the rest of the world. Before she joined HHS, Huber was the co-founder and president of Ascend (formerly called the National Abstinence Education Association), the nation’s leading advocacy organization for abstinence-only sex education. In January, Huber was moved from her role as the senior policy advisor for the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health to the agency’s global affairs office.

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“All of the terrible things Valerie Huber has tirelessly tried to do in the U.S., she can now try to do across the entire world,” Jennifer Driver, the state policy director for the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, told Rewire.News at the time.

More from Rewire.News:

Huber is joining a team at the global affairs office that has already been “working fairly diligently to strip back sexual health and reproductive rights language and approaches in the global space,” said Jesseca Boyer, senior policy manager at the Guttmacher Institute. Boyer noted that Kyle Zebley has been promoted from senior policy adviser in the Office of Global Affairs to the office’s chief of staff; Zebley served as legislative director to former-HHS secretary Tom Price, who made headlines while in Congress for his attempt to defund Planned Parenthood in 2015 and for his anti-choice views.

The HHS Office of Global Affairs works with the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), Boyer noted, which has also started using “sexual risk avoidance” language in its documents. For example, PEPFAR’s Strategy for Accelerating HIV/AIDS Epidemic Control (2017-2020) includes the “expansion of HIV prevention and risk avoidance strategies for those who are HIV-negative negative.”

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Just weeks after Huber joined HHS in 2017, the agency moved to cut $200 million in funding for its Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program, an Obama-era program that did not focus on abstinence-only education. In 2018, HHS reversed its decision after several groups sued the Trump administration, but earlier that year, the agency had issued new guidelines for that program that stated it would focus on funding organizations that promoted abstinence-only sexual education, or what it deemed “sexual risk avoidance.” That term is one that Huber has used repeatedly in rebranding abstinence-only programs, as she did in this op-ed, written before she joined HHS. “The healthiest message for youth is one that gives youth the skills and information to avoid the risks of teen sex, not merely reduce them,” Huber proclaimed.

Before Huber founded Ascend, she managed Ohio’s state-funded abstinence education program from 2004 to 2007. As the head of Ascend, she pushed for states to ban “any gateway sexual activity or health message that encourages students to experiment with sexual activity” in schools, which led to Tennessee passing legislation in 2012 that allowed for sex educators to be fined up to $500 if they were found in violation of the law.

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Despite studies that have shown that the use of contraceptives is a major factor in the decline in teen pregnancies as well as the abortion rate, Huber continues to insist that abstinence-only education is the way to go, reportedly proclaiming in 2012 that “abstinence education is a great way to get to the end of abortion in our lifetime.” In a 2016 review of programs recommended by Ascend, one group found that several of them focused on shaming students into not having sex:

For instance, two Ascend-recommended programs — REAL Essentials and Choosing the Best — continue to teach that having sex makes a person dirty and incapable of falling in love.

“REAL Essentials explains that glue (i.e., sex) is a bonding agent that works best on a surface that is ‘clean and dry’ (i.e., virgins),” the Texas Freedom Network report read. “Choosing the Best includes a similar exercise using adhesive tape. The exercise involves placing tape on a student’s skin, then removing it to show what has transferred from the skin to the tape. What remains on the tape is supposed to represent the emotional baggage resulting from sex.”

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“If her work in the U.S. is any indication,” Driver added, “what we would expect is tireless attempts to ignore science, reason, and public opinion in order to push an abstinence-only-until-marriage ideology across the globe.”

That warning has proven to be true. As global reproductive health advocate Elisha Dunn-Georgiou told the Post, “The U.S. stance this time enables other bad actors at the U.N. negotiation table.”

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Esther Wang

Senior staff writer, Jezebel