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Steven Wagner

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary and Acting Assistant Secretary, Administration for Children and Families

James Steven "Steven" Wagner has had a long career in Washington working on conservative causes, including helping to develop Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America” that sought to preserve so-called traditional “family values” and led to legislation that decimated America’s social safety net. He is a long-time Republican pollster who has focused on outreach to conservative religious groups. He previously worked at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), where he suggested access to abortion allows sex-trafficking victims to return to work more quickly.

HOW THEIR ROLE AFFECTS ACCESS TO REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH

In his capacity at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Wagner oversees multiple program offices — including the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which is charged with caring for unaccompanied immigrant children and has made headlines for denying the rights of young women in its care to access full reproductive health care. The children that were separated from their families by the Trump administration are under Wagner’s purview, and Wagner is overseeing a historically large number of children in HHS care due to a decision by ORR that led to guardians fearing deportation if they claim their children from custody.

PREVIOUS EMPLOYMENT OF NOTE

President/Founder, QEV Analytics (a public opinion research and communications strategy firm), 1996 – 2017

President/Founder, Solidarity with the Persecuted Church (“raises funds in the US to support projects undertaken by the Christian Church where she faces persecution”), 2013 – 2017

President/Founder, the Renewal Forum (“a non-profit which undertakes projects of policy analysis, advocacy, and community activism on issues related to human dignity”), 2006 – 2011

Director, Human Trafficking Program, HHS, 2003 – 2006

Director, Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, HUD, 2002 – 2003

Director of Political Education & Administration, International Republican Institute, 1984 – 1986

Research Assistant, House Republican Conference, 1982 – 1983

TIES TO OTHER ANTI-CHOICE EXTREMISTS

Bridgett Wagner:

Steven Wagner married Bridgett Wagner in 1984. Bridgett is Vice President for Policy Promotion at The Heritage Foundation, where she has worked for over 35 years. The Heritage Foundation pushes a “pro-life agenda” with policy recommendations such as redirecting funding away from Planned Parenthood.

Robert George:

Robert George has been described as the country’s “most influential conservative Christian thinker.” Wagner served as a senior fellow at anti-same sex marriage advocate Robert George’s “American Principles Project,” a group that seeks to “advance the role of religion in public life.” The Mission of American Principles Project is to focus on public policy solutions that “affirm the family as the most basic unit of society.” George advocated for Jack Philipps, the cake shop owner in the Supreme Court case Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, and his right to deny service to a same-sex couple because he “could not in conscience” create a wedding cake for gay people.

HIGHLIGHTS

Wagner Is Opposed To Abortion And Birth Control Access For Victims Of Sex Trafficking:

In 2012, Wagner said that HHS’ Office of Human Trafficking program was “founded with the understanding that it was ‘totally inappropriate’ to see abortion as a remedy to women in need.” [Press Release, The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, 4/4/12]

Wagner Has Said That Providing Abortion Services For Victims Only Benefits The Traffickers:

“A pregnant victim is significantly less profitable for an abuser. She has increased health and medical expenses. She becomes visible. Her ‘value’ in the sex industry decreases. Steven Wagner, former director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, stated, ‘Providing [abortion] services to a victim benefits only the trafficker by getting the victim back out on the street and making money sooner.’”  [Syracuse Post Standard, 3/24/15]

Wagner Claimed That He Had “Never Heard of Human Trafficking” When He Started As Director Of The Office of Human Trafficking in 2003:

“Meanwhile, in 2003 pollster Wagner went to work leading the recently established human trafficking office within the Department of Health and Human Services despite having little relevant experience. ‘I actually at that time had never heard of human trafficking,’ he acknowledged in an interview at his office on Capitol Hill, where he now works as a political consultant.” [Mother Jones, 2012]

THE WHOLE STORY

Steven Wagner Is An Anti-Abortion Hard-Liner Who Has And Continues To Use His Government Positions To Limit Access To Reproductive Healthcare

Wagner Vocally Opposes Providing Abortion And Birth Control For Victims Of Sex Trafficking…

In 2012, Wagner Claimed That HHS’ Trafficking Program Did Not See “Abortion As A Remedy To Women In Need.” “One of the persons who established the HHS program, Steven Wagner, said a few months ago that none of the organizations that initially sought funding wanted to provide for abortion. Indeed, he said the program was founded with the understanding that it was ‘totally inappropriate’ to see abortion as a remedy to women in need.” [Press Release, The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, 4/4/12]

Wagner Stated That He Did Not “Think The Role Of The Federal Government In Helping A Victim Regain Control Over Their Lives Is To Help Them Get An Abortion Or Contraception.” Steven Wagner, who ran the HHS anti-trafficking program for three years during President George W. Bush’s administration, said he opposes shifting the funding to the Justice Department, which focuses more on prosecuting traffickers than on helping victims. But he said congressional Republicans aren’t to blame for the delay in reauthorizing the anti-trafficking law. Rather, he said the responsibility lies with HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who ‘destroyed the bipartisan consensus.’ ‘I don’t think the role of the federal government in helping a victim regain control over their lives is to help them get an abortion or contraception,’ he said, adding that other organizations can guide victims to those services if that’s what a victim wants.” [Gannett News Service, 4/9/12]  

In 2015, Wagner Claimed That Providing Abortion Services For Victims Only Benefits The Traffickers. “A pregnant victim is significantly less profitable for an abuser. She has increased health and medical expenses. She becomes visible. Her ‘value’ in the sex industry decreases. Steven Wagner, former director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, stated, ‘Providing [abortion] services to a victim benefits only the trafficker by getting the victim back out on the street and making money sooner.’” [Syracuse Post Standard, 3/24/15]

While Leading HHS’ Anti-Trafficking Office, Wagner Directed All Federal Trafficking Victim Services Funds To Catholic Bishops Who “Could Not Discuss Contraception Or Abortion”

While Wagner Was Director Of HHS’ Anti-Trafficking Office, The Office Awarded All Funds — $19 Million — Earmarked For Trafficking Victim Services To The Virulently Anti-Abortion And Anti-Birth Control U.S. Council Of Catholic Bishops (USCCB)…

While Wagner Served As Director Of The Trafficking Office, The USCCB Received All Of The $19 Million Dedicated For Trafficking Victim Services From 2006 Through 2011. “Meanwhile, in 2003 pollster Wagner went to work leading the recently established human trafficking office within the Department of Health and Human Services despite having little relevant experience. ‘I actually at that time had never heard of human trafficking,’ he acknowledged in an interview at his office on Capitol Hill, where he now works as a political consultant…Wagner concluded that nonprofits should get funds only if they actually served victims. He advocated an approach used by the bishops, who were already getting federal funding and doling it out to subcontractors on a per capita basis to help trafficking victims. After a bidding process in which USCCB was one of two organizations vying for the money, it ended up with all of the $19 million dedicated for trafficking victim services from 2006 through 2011.” [Mother Jones, 2012]

  • USCCB Is Anti-Abortion And Anti-Birth Control. “The nation's Roman Catholic bishops, acknowledging that American Catholics pay little heed to their teaching on contraception, launched an effort today to reinforce the ban on birth control and linked it to the anti-abortion campaign. Holding their regular meeting in Washington, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops tackled another sexuality issue today. They approved the text of a brochure that lays out the church's condemnation of same-sex unions. The contraception question was introduced by the Committee for Pro-Life Activities, the bishops' anti-abortion committee, which proposed the writing of an easily understandable booklet. The booklet would address questions about the church's teaching on marriage and sex, why ‘natural family planning’ — seeking or avoiding pregnancies according to the fertility cycle — is acceptable and why it believes birth control is wrong.” [New York Times, 11/12/2003]

…Meanwhile, USCCB Subcontractors Were Not Allowed To Discuss Birth Control Or Abortion

The USCCB Reportedly Took About A Third Of The Money For Administrative Costs And Subcontractors “Could Not Discuss Contraception Or Abortion.” “Wagner concluded that nonprofits should get funds only if they actually served victims. He advocated an approach used by the bishops, who were already getting federal funding and doling it out to subcontractors on a per capita basis to help trafficking victims. After a bidding process in which USCCB was one of two organizations vying for the money, it ended up with all of the $19 million dedicated for trafficking victim services from 2006 through 2011.  The bishops took about a third of the money for administrative costs. With the rest, they paid subcontractors around the country to provide services — on the church’s terms. Subcontractors could not discuss contraception or abortion, or even use staff time to refer clients for such services, on the church’s dime.” [Mother Jones, 2012]

  • In 2012, Wagner Criticized The Obama Administration’s Attempt To End The USCCB Contract. “Wagner says the Obama administration is not only anti-Catholic but also anti-religious in general. The move to end the bishops’ human trafficking contract is part of ‘an incremental strategy,’ in his view. ‘I don’t think it bodes well for faith-based organizations.’” [Mother Jones, 2012]

During His Current Stint At HHS, Wagner Has Been Instrumental In Policies Limiting Young Women’s Access To Comprehensive Reproductive Health Care...

Wagner Was Involved In Requiring A Pregnant Minor To See A “Highly Deceptive” Anti-Abortion Pamphlet That Listed “Death” & “Breast Cancer Risk” And “Future Infertility” As Risks Of Abortion 

Wagner, ACF Advisor Maggie Wynne and Former ORR Director Scott Lloyd Decided That A Minor Who Was Not In Texas Be Offered An-Anti Abortion Pamphlet That Is Published By The State Of Texas. Q: “Did you also instruct that this minor be offered a publication by the State of Texas about abortion?” LLOYD: Something along those lines, yeah. Q: “Is this the first minor that you have made such an instruction for?” LLOYD: “I don't recall, but I don't think so.” Q. “This minor wasn't in Texas, was she?” LLOYD: “No.” Q: “Why then would she be asked to read a publication from the State of Texas?” LLOYD: “We found it to be a good resource.” Q: “Who is ‘we’?” LLOYD: “People in the department.” Q: “Who would that include?” LLOYD: “Me and legal counsel and Maggie Wynne, Steve Wagner, decision-makers.” [Videotaped Deposition of Scott Lloyd, Esq., Washington D.C., 12/18/17 in Garza V. Hargan, Case #3:16-cv-3539-LB]

  • The “Highly Deceptive” Anti-Abortion Texas Brochure Lists Debunked “Abortion Risks” Such as Breast Cancer. “In an April 20 email, the Office of Refugee Resettlement, an arm of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, directed its shelters to provide minors in their custody with "A Woman's Right to Know." Texas' health department created the booklet, which abortion providers are required to give patients 24 hours before the procedure. It outlines gestational stages, abortion risks and alternative services such as adoption. The booklet was revised in December 2016 to include research linking abortions to breast cancer, which has been refuted. Four members of Congress objected Monday to the "forced dissemination of a highly deceptive anti-abortion brochure." [Dallas News, 5/2/18]
  • The Pamphlet Also Lists “Death” And “Mental Health Risks” [A Woman’s Right To Know, accessed 10/5/18]:

...And Promoted Anti-LGBTQ Policy Guidance While Remaining Aligned With Extreme Anti-LGBTQ Groups And Individuals

As Head Of ACF, Wagner Planned To Remind States About The “Importance Of Promoting Healthy Marriage And Responsible Fatherhood”

Wagner Stated That ACF Planned To Disseminate A “‘Dear Colleague’ Reminding States About The Importance Of Promoting Healthy Marriage And Responsible Fatherhood.” “ACF has already taken significant action to advance welfare reform on behalf of the Administration by revoking an Obama Administration guidance that encouraged state waivers of the work requirements in cash welfare, issuing guidance encouraging states to develop employment programs for non-custodial parents, and disseminating a ‘Dear Colleague’ reminding states about the importance of promoting healthy marriage and responsible fatherhood.” [Statement by Steven Wagner, Acting Assistant Secretary, Administration for Children and Families, 4/10/18]