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WASHINGTON, D.C., October 16, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) — In a stunning change of direction from the Obama administration, the Trump Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has not only declared that human life begins “at conception,” but has made protecting citizens “from conception to natural death” one of its top priorities.

While the Obama HHS under Kathleen Sebelius championed abortion coverage, the HHS under Trump’s pick Tom Price proposed in its newly released draft “strategic plan” to rescind that mandate and defend life and religious liberty. The strategic plan, dated September 2017, sets goals beginning in 2018 and ending 2022. 

The proposed plan states that HHS will serve and protect Americans at “every stage of life, beginning at conception” and up through “natural death.”

The HHS specifically states under the first goal of “Reform, Strengthen, and Modernize the Nation’s Health Care” that its “ultimate goal is to improve healthcare outcomes for all people, including the unborn.”

Pro-lifers are cheering the proposed plan while abortion activists have expressed outrage. 

“The American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists (AAPLOG) applauds the recognition that human life begins at the ‘moment of conception’ which, when rightly understood, is the moment of the fusion of the sperm and egg,” Executive Director Dr. Donna J. Harrison told LifeSiteNews.  

National Right to Life President Carol Tobias told LifeSiteNews that the plan was a “positive step forward to that day when all unborn children are protected.”

40 Days for Life President Shawn Carney told LifeSiteNews that it was “very encouraging to see the new HHS effort to confirm what science has been telling us – life begins at conception.”

Clarke Forsythe, Senior Counsel at Americans United for Life (AUL) told LifeSiteNews that the HHS addition of “beginning at conception” in reference to protecting lives “accurately reflects current state law.” 

“Thirty-eight states now have a fetal homicide law and thirty of them begin legal protection at conception,” he said.  “In addition, there are court cases and legal and legislative declarations in nearly all of the states stating that the life of a human being begins at conception.”

“It’s appropriate that HHS should bring its mission into line with the legal protection of human beings in current law,” Forsythe said.

Jim Sedlak, American Life League Executive Director, said that no one should be surprised that the HHS strategic plan under the administration of “pro-life President Donald Trump” differs from the strategic plan put together by the “administration of the most pro-abortion president in American history – Barack Obama.”

Sedlak said some are portraying the HHS changes as “somehow anti-woman.”  

“When will these people realize that about fifty percent of the babies that will have their lives saved through a more pro-life approach will be female?” he told LifeSiteNews. 

“It is incredible that, in 2017, there are still people who deny that every human being’s life begins at Stage 1-A of the Carnegie Stages of Human Development,” he added. 

Sedlak said the HHS changes merely reflect scientific fact. 

“The addition of the words ‘beginning at conception’ is not a radical departure but simply a clarifying phrase,” he said.  “The phrase is necessary because many abortion supporters want to deny that the term ‘every stage of life’ includes life stages that occur before birth.”

Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, said that Trump’s HHS administration is stating “the obvious” in the proposed plan. 

“It’s a sign of the power of the abortion lobby that it’s big news for HHS to acknowledge the kind of science every kid learns K-12:  that a new human life is created at the moment of conception, growing, responding to stimuli, exhibiting all the signs of life that NASA keeps looking for on distant planets,” she said.

“At least our government now proclaims what we all learned at grade school: a new human life begins at conception,” Hawkins concluded, “and we should treat those unique persons with the same respect we expect for ourselves.”

Lila Rose of Live Action commented that the change to the HHS mandate “might be five little words, but its meaning is deep.”

“It signifies that at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services knows and accepts the truth that life begins at conception (fertilization)… The changes are welcome moves for those who advocate for the protection of preborn humans in a country where preborn eagles currently have more rights… It’s a step in the right direction, acknowledging that life exists inside the womb,” she said. 

The proposed HHS plan has left the abortion activists outraged.

“This is a license to discriminate,” said Susan Berke Fogel of the abortion activist group National Health Law Program

The National Abortion Rights Action League’s (NARAL) Pro-Choice America call the HHS proposal an “extremist anti-choice policy.”

Oregon Health and Science University Associate Professor Esther Choo said the “beginning at conception” phrase “concerns me as a potential starting point for denying women necessary health services.” She called the HHS plan “unusual and disturbing” for its cooperation with faith-based groups.

Some pro-lifers are expressing a note of caution about the proposed plan, saying that “conception” must be properly defined to mean the moment when fertilization occurs.

“AAPLOG is hoping that the new language clarification will include clarifying that ‘conception’ scientifically speaking is the same as fertilization, and reject the dubious American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ definition of ‘conception’ as equal to implantation, an event that happens almost a week after the new human embryo has formed,” Dr. Harrison said. 

The new plan also states the HHS will do what it can to help implement Trump’s executive order issued last May to “promote free speech and religious liberty.”  In this regard, the proposed HHS plan will: 

identify and remove barriers to, or burdens imposed on, the exercise of religious beliefs and/or moral convictions by persons or organizations partnering with, or served by HHS, and affirmatively accommodate such beliefs and convictions, to ensure full and active engagement of persons of faith or moral conviction and of faith-based organizations in the work of HHS.

That’s a far cry from the previous administration’s executive orders, such as the so-called “contraception mandate,” that violated sincerely held beliefs of many groups.

Other HHS Strategic Plan goals include “Protect the Health of Americans Where They Live, Learn, Work, and Play,” “Foster Sound, Sustained Advances in the Sciences,” and “Promote Effective and Efficient Management and Stewardship.”

The draft plan is up for public comment on the HHS website, or via email at [email protected].  Citizens may also fax their comments to (202) 690-5882, mail a letter to Department of Health and Human Services, Attn: Strategic Plan Comments, 200 Independence Av SW, Room 415F, Washington DC 20201.