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Atul Gawande

Assistant Administrator Of The Bureau For Global Health, USAID

Atul Gawande is a highly regarded surgeon and author who has served on the Biden Transition COVID-19 Advisory Board. Gawande has a complicated record regarding reproductive health, rights, and justice, having authored controversial articles in the past that came across as especially problematic when evaluated through a modern lens. However, in recent years, he has signaled support for abortion rights, finding particular issue with anti-abortion tactics and medical malpractice. His progress on the issues warrants a yellow categorization; Equity Forward will look for continued progress moving forward.

Gawande Was Confirmed By The Senate As Assistant Administrator Of The Bureau For Global Health In December 2021

Gawande Was Confirmed By A 48-31 Senate Vote As Assistant Administrator Of The Bureau For Global Health On December 17, 2021. [Congress, accessed 1/11/22]

On June 13, 2021, Atul Gawande Was Announced As President Biden’s Nominee For Assistant Administrator Of The Bureau For Global Health, USAID

On June 13, 2021, Gawande Was Included On A List Of Nominees Published By The White House. “Distinguished Professor of Surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Samuel O. Thier Professor of Surgery at Harvard Medical School, and Professor of Health Policy and Management at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Dr. Gawande is also founder and chair of Ariadne Labs, a joint center for health systems innovation at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and of Lifebox, a nonprofit organization making surgery safer globally. During the coronavirus pandemic, he co-founded CIC Health, which operates COVID-19 testing and vaccination nationally, and served as a member of the Biden transition COVID-19 Advisory Board. From 2018 to 2020, he was CEO of Haven, the Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JPMorgan Chase health care venture. He previously served as a senior advisor in the Department of Health and Human Services in the Clinton Administration.” [White House, 6/13/21]

In Recent Years, Gawande Has Voiced Support For Evidence-Based Abortion Care And Policy

Gawande Has Signaled Support For More Transparency And Accuracy In Abortion Related Legislation 

Gawande Retweeted A Study Calling Attention To The Fact That Anti-Abortion Laws Don’t Reduce Abortions, But “Contraception Does.” 

  [Atul Gawande, 5/17/16]

Gawande Amplified A Tweet That Criticized Legislation That Permitted Anti-Abortion Doctors To Lie To Patients. 

[Atul Gawande Twitter, 3/9/12]

Gawande Spoke Out Against The Trump Administration’s CDC Ban On Inclusive Language

Gawande Signaled Disproval Of The Trump Administration’s Ban Of Inclusive Language As It Related To The 2019 CDC Budget. 

 [Atul Gawande Twitter, 12/16/17]












Gawande Seemed To Affirm Intersex Rights In A 2002 Slate Column

Gawande Wrote A Slate Column In Which He Seemingly Affirmed Intersex Rights. “Maybe you have to be intelligent and resourceful to survive in this world without a clear gender. (In truth, I can't say that the intersex people I've met are actually that much smarter or more capable than others.) The traditional thing has always been to assign a gender to such a child. (Usually, they're assigned to be girls, since the body's default, in the absence of an effective testosterone system, is to have a clitoris instead of a penis, labia instead of testes, and a vagina, even if it is blind ending. If I remember correctly, the baby ended up being assigned female before going home.) But the compelling and fascinating notion that people with these conditions are increasingly pushing for is simply being allowed to be who they are "neither male nor female, or maybe a little bit of both. Can we handle it? Why shouldn't we?” [Slate, 4/17/02]

During The 1990s And 2000s, Gawande Repeatedly Took Stigmatizing Positions Harmful To Those Seeking Reproductive Health Care

Gawande Authored An Article In 1998  That Used Stigmatizing Language In Its Description Of Abortions That Occur Later In Pregnancy

Gawande Used Extremely Stigmatizing Language In A 1998 Article For Slate. “Every abortion is gross, but the technique is not the issue” [Slate, 1/30/98]

Gawande Described Anti-Choice Ideology As “Seductive”. “Pro-life advocates offer a seductive argument: Whatever you think about abortion in general, partial-birth abortion is just too ghastly to permit. As Republican National Committeeman Tim Lambert argues:, ‘“It is really not about abortion. It’s about infanticide, it’s about a procedure so gruesome the American Medical Association is opposed to it.” Now even strongly pro-choice politicians see this as a no-brainer and may provide enough votes to override President Clinton’s veto of the ban.” [Slate, 1/30/98]

Gawande Seems To Shame People For Not Recognizing They Were Pregnant Earlier. “A few late abortions are done for the mother’s health, to save her, for example, from possible disaster caused by an infected uterus or a newly diagnosed heart condition. Most of the time, however, they are elective. Often, the mother didn’t know she was pregnant. “The power of human denial is unbelievable,” one obstetrician told me. It’s not at all uncommon, he said, to see women go through an entire pregnancy without realizing it, come to the ER with a stomachache, and turn out to be in labor.” [Slate, 1/30/98]

Even When Gawande Attempted To Be Neutral, Stigmatizing Language Was Used. “We need more in-depth study to identify this critical juncture. That’s because most people would feel that it is wrong to do elective abortions–abortions when the health of the mother is not at risk and the fetus is not seriously deformed–beyond that point. The current debate glosses over these issues. There’s no good reason to single out partial-birth abortion–or any technique. From the pro-lifers’ standpoint, banning it will not actually save a single fetus. And for abortion-rights supporters, it is only an invitation to inconsistency.” [Slate, 1/30/98]

In A 2007 New York Times OpEd Gawande Utilized Shame And Stigma To Advocate For Better Sex Education And Reduced Abortion Rates

Gawande Critiqued Politicians’ Reproductive Health Policy By Implying That Abortion Rates Were Too High. “One statistic seems to me to give the lie to all the rhetoric about abortion, and it’s this: one in three women under the age of 45 have an abortion during their lifetime. One in three. All politicians — Democrat and Republican — say they want to make abortion at least rare (as Giuliani did in Wednesday’s debate). On, this they could reach agreement. But it’s clear they haven’t been serious; the U.S. has 1.3 million abortions a year.” [New York Times, 5/19/07]

Gawande Made Stigmatizing Comments Towards Teen Parents. “First, it emphasizes throughout high school that teenagers should wait until they’re older to have sex (because the majority regret not waiting; because having a child as a child wrecks their lives); and second, it makes it clear that when they ultimately have sex, they should always use protection.” [New York Times, 5/19/07]

Gawande Seemed To Imply That Adult Abortion Rates Are “The Issue”. “Fact two follows from this: Abortion is mainly an adult problem. Forty-five percent of abortions occur in adults ages 18 to 24; 48 percent occur after age 25. Most are in women who have already had a child. The kids are all right. We are the issue.” [New York Times, 5/19/07]

Gawande Cited “Blindness” As The Cause Of Birth Control Failure And Negated The Various Clinical Factors That Impact Birth Control Efficiency. “Fact three is that our biggest problem is not using contraception properly: 92 percent of abortions occur in women who said they used birth control. Six in 10 used contraception the month they got pregnant. The others reported that they had used birth control previously but, for one reason or another, not that month. (Many, for example, say they didn’t expect to have sex.) The trouble appears to be blindness to how easy it is to get pregnant and what it takes to make birth control really work.” [New York Times, 5/19/07]

Gawande Proclaimed That Through Education There Is No Reason Anyone Would Have To Join “The One In Three” People Who Will Have An Abortion Before Age 45. “Fact four: you have to educate yourself. The details matter. An effective national campaign would provide the details — on television, on billboards — and actively use what evidence shows works best to cut our massive rate of unwanted pregnancies. But politics precludes this. There’s not going to be such a campaign anytime soon. Nonetheless, there’s no reason you have to join the one in three — or as a male, contribute to it. You just have to understand: the effort is strictly Do-It-Yourself.” [New York Times, 5/19/07]

In 1997 Gawande Gave A Flippant Take On Why HIV Patients In The Global South Should Receive Second-Class Medical Treatment

Gawande Authored “Does The Third World Deserve Second-Class AIDS Treatment? “Yes; some help is better than no help.” [Slate, 11/8/97]

Gawande Wrote An Article That Critiqued Critics Of HIV Studies That Gave Placebos To Newborns In The Global South. “This September, the New England Journal of Medicine created a firestorm when it accused researchers of conducting unethical experiments to reduce HIV in newborns in Third World countries. The charges, comparing the work to the infamous Tuskegee experiment, have since halted at least one HIV study. But a closer look suggests that the critics suffer from an ethical blindness of their own.” [Slate, 11/8/97]

Gawande Used Flippant Language While Discussing The Financial Aspects Of The Situation.  “Critics are right that a complex AZT regimen would be best for them. It is the standard of care. So are CAT scanners and heart-bypass surgery. But poor countries aren’t going to get any of these. Cost is a big reason–these countries typically spend under $20 per person on health care annually. But even if Glaxo Wellcome gave away the drugs, the complete regimen is still infeasible in much of Africa and south Asia.” [Slate, 11/8/97]


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