The Heritage Foundation

The Heritage Foundation brands itself as a beacon of the intellectual conservative establishment. In reality, the think tank serves as a pipeline of hate to the Trump administration, dedicating significant energy to extremist policy recommendations to deny access to abortion and birth control and to harm LGBTQ people.

Summary Extremism Key Players Influence Related Orgs


Since its founding, the Heritage Foundation has become “inextricably intertwined” with Republican administrations and lawmakers in Washington. Heritage brands itself as a beacon of the intellectual conservative establishment; in reality, it is an organization that regularly spouts hateful ideas on par with organizations like the Family Research Council (FRC), which has earned designation from the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group. Much like its peer groups, Heritage dedicates significant energy to extremist policy recommendations that hinder access to abortion and birth control and promote discrimination against LGBTQ individuals.

These extremist policy positions have had an outsized influence on the Trump administration. As reported in the New York Times Magazine, Heritage developed a massive database of conservatives — many of them current staffers or alums of the think tank — to staff the Trump administration. These individuals, who are connected to Heritage and currently serve in the administration, maintain relationships with the think tank and likely serve as back channels to influence policy — which has been closely mirrored between the two entities since Trump took office.


Despite claiming to conduct “accurate research,” Heritage supports extremist policies and misleading information.

Heritage claims that it performs “accurate research on key policy issues.”…  

“Heritage’s staff pursues this mission by performing timely, accurate research on key policy issues and effectively marketing these findings to our primary audiences: members of Congress, key congressional staff members, policymakers in the executive branch, the nation’s news media, and the academic and policy communities.” [, accessed 4/3/19]

… But Heritage actively celebrates barriers to health care and opposes legal protections on the basis of gender and sexual orientation.

Heritage has “long opposed the expansion of antidiscrimination laws to elevate ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity’ as protected classes.”

“In the United States of America, people who identify as LGBT are free to live as they want. But SOGI laws… are not about freedom — they are about coercion. SOGI laws are about forcing all Americans to embrace — and live out — certain beliefs about human sexuality… Heritage Foundation experts have long opposed the expansion of antidiscrimination laws to elevate ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity’ as protected classes. Where enacted, SOGI laws are frequently used as swords to persecute people with unpopular beliefs, rather than as shields to protect people from unjust discrimination.” [, 11/28/18]

The director of Heritage’s Center For Religion And Civil Society falsely said that trans-inclusive restrooms “can be exploited by sexual predators.”

“Emilie Kao, the director of the Richard and Helen DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society at the Heritage Foundation, defended the administration’s approach to the issues at CSW as in line with American social conservative policies. One issue she said she will raise in her advocacy work on the sidelines of CSW this week is bathroom policies that increasingly accommodate transgender and gender nonconforming individuals, which conservative activists say pose a risk to women. ‘Men can gain access to a single-sex facilities where women have an expectation of privacy and safety,’ she said. These facilities, she said, can be exploited by sexual predators. But recent academic studies have found there is no link between bathroom safety and trans-inclusive bathrooms in the wake of a national debate on this issue.” [Foreign Policy, 3/14/19]

Heritage proposes extremist policies to bolster its anti-abortion ideology and limit access to health care.

Heritage celebrated the Trump administration’s rule change to limit access to birth control.

“Those who cherish religious liberty can celebrate a major victory this week. On Wednesday, the Department of Health and Human Services published final rules that provide much-needed relief from one of Obamacare’s most egregious assaults on rights of conscience and religious liberty: the mandate that nearly all health insurance plans cover abortion-inducing drugs and contraception. One rule provides an exemption for religious beliefs, and a second rule provides an exemption for moral convictions. Together, they provide meaningful relief to Americans who have long been burdened by the onerous mandate. These exemptions bring to a close a yearslong saga that never needed to happen in the first place.” [The Heritage Foundation, 11/9/18]

Heritage prioritizes anti-abortion ideology over access to health care.  

“The Department of Health and Human Services under President Obama decided to require insurance plans to cover abortion-inducing drugs, contraceptives, and sterilization. Commonly referred to as the ‘HHS mandate’ or ‘contraception mandate,’ that requirement conflicts with the beliefs of many employers, individuals, and religious organizations regarding the protection of unborn human life. They regard it as an intolerable burden. The Supreme Court has provided relief to closely held businesses and to certain religious institutions. But as long as the mandate is in place, many individuals and organizations still face a disturbing choice: Either violate their sincerely held religious or moral beliefs or pay steep fines and, perhaps, forgo offering or obtaining health insurance altogether. When President Trump took office, these people and those who sympathize with them hoped that he would make religious liberty great again… It’s past time for the president to make good on his promise.” [, 9/30/17]

Heritage falsely claims that abstinence-only education programs are effective.

Heritage has falsely claimed the efficacy of abstinence education programs.  

“Teenage sexual activity is a major problem confronting the nation and has led to a rising incidence of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), emotional and psychological injuries, and out-of-wedlock childbearing. Abstinence education programs for youth have been proven to be effective in reducing early sexual activity. Abstinence programs also can provide the foundation for personal responsibility and enduring marital commitment.” [, 4/8/02]

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Key Players


Kay Coles James

Kay Coles James became president of The Heritage Foundation in the beginning of 2018; she had served as a Heritage board member for over a decade. James previously worked in the George W. Bush administration and as Virginia’s secretary of health and human services. James has compared LGBTQ people to “drug addicts, alcoholics, adulterers, or ‘anything else sinful,’” and has also tweeted that “abortion is a form of discrimination,” attempting to paint her anti-abortion work in the same vein as fighting racism.

[Kay Coles James Twitter, 1/19/18, accessed 3/15/19]

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Vice President of the Institute for Family, Community, and Opportunity

Charmaine Yoest

While The Heritage Foundation has many alumni serving in the Trump administration, it also serves as a safe haven for like-minded individuals who have left the administration. For instance, Charmaine Yoest, who worked at HHS before moving to the White House in 2018, accepted a position at Heritage in March 2019. Yoest is an anti-abortion advocate and Family Research Council (FRC) alum. The FRC — which shares many policy stances with Heritage — is a Southern Poverty Law Center-designated hate group. Yoest is the former president of Americans United for Life, where she was characterized as “public enemy #1” for abortion rights.”

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Director of the Center for Religion and Civil Society

Emilie Kao

Emilie Kao is an attorney and the director of Heritage’s Center for Religion and Civil Society. Kao uses her position to spout her transphobic, bigoted beliefs: she has falsely said that trans-inclusive restrooms can be “exploited by sexual predators.” Kao wrote an op-ed entitled “How Tech Giants Are Banning True Speech About Biological Sex” — in reality, Twitter updated its policies to protect against misgendering. She has accused organizations celebrating LGBTQ PRIDE month of “impos[ing] sexual orthodoxy.”

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Research Associate at the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society:

Melanie Israel

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Legal Fellow & Program Manager of the Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies

Elizabeth Slattery

Elizabeth Slattery is a legal fellow and program manager of Heritage’s Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies. She consistently publishes anti-birth control, anti-abortion writings the guise of “health care conscience rights.” With no mention of the health care access it guarantees women, Slattery wrote of the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) birth control benefit, “Every day that the Little Sisters of the Poor have to go to court to defend their religious freedom is a day they could better spend caring for the sick, old, and poor. Every day that individuals, employers, and religious organizations are forced to choose between complying with the mandate or violating their sincere moral or religious beliefs is an affront to the religious liberty of all Americans.”

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Senior Legal Fellow

Hans A. von Spakovsky

Heritage Foundation Senior Legal Fellow Hans A. von Spakovsky is an anti-immigration advocate who has given the Trump administration’s family separation policy a rubber stamp while absolving it of any responsibility. In a commentary he authored last July entitled “Family Separation Not Trump Administration’s Fault,” in which von Spakovsky falsely wrote, “Keep in mind that those parents would be instantly reunited with their families if they did the right thing — volunteered to return to their native country. By breaking the law and bypassing our legal immigration process, those parents are responsible for what is happening to their children.” von Spakovsky is the same analyst who wrote “No Asylum. Period.” in response to many victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse seeking asylum in the United States, which is legal under international law.

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Heritage has developed a vast right-wing network, beginning with strong internship and college outreach programs.

Heritage’s Young Leaders Program — with 75-person summer cohorts — is a successful stepping stone into positions within the federal government.

“On-ramps to congressional staff positions for conservatives include talent development programs funded by The Heritage Foundation, the Charles Koch Institute, The Federalist Society, the Tax Foundation and the Mercatus Center.” [Roll Call, 1/25/19]

Heritage President Kay Cole James announced the 2018 dedication of a new dormitory for the think tank’s interns as an expansion of its “base of operations” in the “fight” against the left.

“James… described the new intern dorm as an expansion of the think tank’s ‘base of operations’ against what she characterized as a ‘very determined and very well-resourced foe. They want to change America into something she was never intended to be. And they might succeed if we don’t fight every single day of our lives.’” [New York Times Magazine, 6/20/18]

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Heritage has exercised enormous control over staffing the Trump administration — as is clearly demonstrated in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Heritage started preparing a massive database to stock Trump’s White House before he announced his candidacy…  

The Trump team may not have been prepared to staff the government, but the Heritage Foundation was. In the summer of 2014, a year before Trump even declared his candidacy, the right-wing think tank had started assembling a 3,000-name searchable database of trusted movement conservatives from around the country who were eager to serve in a post-Obama government. The initiative was called the Project to Restore America, a dog-whistle appeal to the so-called silent majority that foreshadowed Trump’s own campaign slogan.” [New York Times Magazine, 6/20/18]

… In a “huge strategic victory” for Heritage, it’s estimated that hundreds of people Heritage put forward now staff the Trump administration, including a number of alums.

“Today it is clear that for all the chaos and churn of the current administration, Heritage has achieved a huge strategic victory. Those who worked on the project estimate that hundreds of the people the think tank put forward landed jobs, in just about every government agency. Heritage’s recommendations included some of the most prominent members of Trump’s cabinet: Scott Pruitt, Betsy DeVos (whose in-laws endowed Heritage’s Richard and Helen DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society), Mick Mulvaney, Rick Perry, Jeff Sessions and many more. Dozens of Heritage employees and alumni also joined the Trump administration — at last count 66 of them, according to Heritage, with two more still awaiting Senate confirmation. It is a kind of critical mass that Heritage had been working toward for nearly a half-century.” [New York Times Magazine, 6/20/18]

The pipeline between Heritage and the Trump administration is evident: Heritage alums include extremist anti-abortion, homophobic attorney and current HHS Office For Civil Rights (OCR) Director Roger Severino

The Atlantic: “Severino has been an outspoken advocate against abortion.”  

“For his part, Severino has been an outspoken advocate against abortion and same-sex marriage.” [The Atlantic, 6/7/17]

Severino wrote that Planned Parenthood “does two things exceedingly well — ending innocent human lives in the womb for a fee, and getting American taxpayers to subsidize its operations.”

Severino wrote in an op-ed in the Daily Signal, “Planned Parenthood has once again proven it does two things exceedingly well — ending innocent human lives in the womb for a fee, and getting American taxpayers to subsidize its operations. How else to explain Congress making America’s No. 1 abortion provider eligible for new funding when it already gets over a half-billion dollars (yes, billion) in taxpayer money per year?” [Roger Severino Op-Ed, Daily Signal, 9/23/16] 

Severino became one of the first government officials in memory to speak at the National Right to Life convention, said “we’re just getting started” when it comes to “life and conscience.”

“For the first time in recent memory, an official from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services spoke at a conference of the nation’s largest anti-abortion organization. ‘Our president is fearless when it comes to life and conscience,’ said Roger Severino, who directs the Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights. ‘We’re just getting started.’ Severino was a featured speaker at the National Right to Life convention Thursday in Overland Park. A former Justice Department lawyer who has also worked for the Heritage Foundation, Severino told abortion opponents the story of a Catholic nurse who was coerced into assisting with an abortion against her beliefs. ‘It happened in America and it should never happen again,’ Severino said. ‘This administration is dedicated to making sure it never happens again.’” [Wichita Eagle, 6/29/18]

Severino argued against Obama-era protections for transgender people seeking medical transitions and for people seeking abortions because the regulations violate “freedom of conscience.”

He wrote in 2016, “By prohibiting differential treatment on the basis of ‘gender identity’ in health services, these regulations propose to penalize medical professionals and health care organizations that, as a matter of faith, moral conviction, or professional medical judgment, believe that maleness and femaleness are biological realities to be respected and affirmed, not altered or treated as diseases…the proposed regulations may threaten the freedom of conscience of physicians, health care entities, and individuals who have religious or moral objections to abortion.” [Heritage Foundation, 1/8/16]

Severino openly discounts LGBT people’s rights — in 2016, he wrote that the North Carolina legislature’s bathroom bill was “common sense.”

“[The North Carolina bill was] what most people consider simple common sense—that biological men should not be given unfettered access to public bathrooms, showers, and locker rooms set aside for the needs, safety, and privacy of biological women…These developments prove that same-sex marriage was merely the start, not end, of the left’s LGBT agenda. The radical left is using government power to coerce everyone, including children, into pledging allegiance to a radical new gender ideology over and above their right to privacy, safety, and religious freedom.” [The Daily Signal, 5/9/18]

… Multiple former Heritage interns have now been elevated into positions of power at HHS, including anti-birth control advocate Maya Noronha, now a special advisor in OCR…

Maya Noronha wrote an article arguing that abstinence-only education, as opposed to condom use, was the best way to fight AIDS.

“Student Global AIDS Campaign advocates ending abstinence-only AIDS prevention programs and promoting the use and distribution of male and female condoms and other forms of contraception – a proposition not only irresponsible, but dangerous. AIDS prevention groups today are enamored of the mythical panacea of prophylactics, undoubtedly propagated by condom companies far more interested in profit than public welfare. While condoms can break, slip, leak as well as be used inconsistently, abstinence and monogamous relationships ensure a 100 percent effective way to combat the AIDS pandemic. The indiscriminate gratification of sexual impulses has consequences. Instead of focusing on changing risky behavior, AIDS prevention groups have turned to the condom as the only ‘credible’ cure-all…In short, condoms do not offer a complete or desirable solution to the AIDS crisis. Delayed sexual debut, partner reduction and fidelity are the proven methods of reducing HIV transmission. Why should we advocate for condoms, testing and treatment, all of which tacitly condone – if not promote – promiscuous behavior? We must make sure that we are truly seeking a long-term solution to the global AIDS program, not a myopic program endorsed by condom producers and biased groups like the oft-cited Alan Guttmacher Institute.” [The Hoya, 3/1/05]

Noronha wrote that anyone who administers health care, including nurses and pharmacists, should be able to exercise their conscience and discriminate against patients.

“One argument [against the regulation] is that the failure of the regulation to provide definitions leaves open the possibility that it can be broadly interpreted to encompass contraception, fertility treatments, and end-of-life care. Some question the appropriateness of applying conscience rights to pharmacists, and those not involved in the decision making process of the patient, those giving indirect treatment, and its possible application even to janitors. However, pharmacists, psychologists, occupational therapists, technicians, social workers, and nurses may have conscientious objections just as a medical doctor would. Healthcare providers-whether physicians, pharmacists or nurses-should not be treated as mere functionaries blindly expected to defer to whatever a patient wants, but should be viewed in their full professional capacity. Those who enter the healthcare profession deserve protection as well; justifiably, the regulation prevents discrimination by encompassing training programs, students and applicants for training or study as well as employees, volunteers, trainees, and contractors. The regulation also appropriately extends ‘across the span of a professional’s education and career;’ a healthcare provider might convert or change their views after experience, and those developments should also be protected.” [The Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics, “Removing Conscience from Medicine,” 2010]

… Other Heritage alums staffing the nation’s health department include Deputy Director Of Intergovernmental And External Affairs Laura Trueman and Assistant Secretary For Public Affairs Judy Stecker

Laura Trueman wrote that “lack of sexual restraint and fidelity” is a greater “threat” to women than pay inequality.

“Ultimately, our daughters’ well-being is intricately bound up in the country’s well-being. In that realm, it’s not pay equity that represents the greatest threat. It’s a constellation of issues, including national indebtedness, declining faith, devaluation of family, lack of sexual restraint and fidelity, the breakdown of marriage, children being reared without the presence of both a mother and father in the home, and education policies that are not equipping children for success.” [, 4/10/14]

Judy Stecker dodged and refused to answer reporters’ questions on a June 2018 press call regarding HHS’ role in child separation crisis.

“Lisa Desjardins, a reporter with PBS NewsHour, asked whether HHS is ‘still receiving children who are coming into your care because of parental detention’ due to an ‘implementation phase on the executive order.’ ‘We can get you that information as soon as possible and we appreciate your patience,’ HHS Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Judy Stecker said before attempting to move on. ‘Actually, it’s really important,’ said Desjardins. ‘Excuse me. Are you still receiving children who are there because of the parental separation policy?’ ‘I believe we’ve answered,’ Stecker replied. ‘I didn’t hear an answer,’ Desjardins said. Stecker then called for a ‘final question’ and someone could be heard on the line expressing shock at Stecker’s refusal to offer specifics… Stecker, the HHS spokesperson, then asked reporters who had further questions or wanted “specific numbers” to reach out to the agency via email. Despite this encouragement, HHS has not responded to a request from Yahoo News asking whether it is still taking in children who have been separated from their parents. The conference call operator seemed to have been prepared for the officials to take more than three questions. ‘You ready for the next question?’ the operator asked Stecker. Stecker was not. ‘With that we will end the call,’ she said before hanging up.” [Yahoo News, 6/26/18]

… Heritage alums working at HHS, along with those who have close ties to the think tank, continue to cultivate close relationships with The Heritage Foundation.

Steven Wagner, Administration for Children and Families (ACF) acting assistant secretary, is married to a Heritage vice president and has attended meetings at Heritage in his official HHS capacity.

[FOIA filed by EF 11/27/18, response received from HHS 1/22/19]

  • 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]

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Heritage alums working at HHS were intimately involved in the creation of OCR’s new discriminatory division — a concept embraced by The Heritage Foundation.

On January 17, 2018, HHS’ OCR announced a new division to protect health workers with “moral or religious objections to performing certain procedures, including things like abortions or sex reassignment surgery for transgender patients.”

“The Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights is creating a new division to protect health workers with moral or religious objections to performing certain procedures, including things like abortions or sex reassignment surgery for transgender patients. The new division is called the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division, and will be officially announced Thursday morning at an event at HHS. According to an invitation to the event provided to BuzzFeed News, the division will specialize ‘in enforcement of and compliance with laws that protect conscience and free exercise of religion, and that prohibit coercion and discrimination.’ HHS did not immediately respond to BuzzFeed News’ request for comment.” [Buzzfeed, 1/17/18; HHS Press Release, 1/18/18]

Heritage alums Maya Noronha and Roger Severino were involved in the creation of the CRF office.

[FOIA request filed by EF on 1/24/18, responsive records received by HHS on 9/21/18]

Severino seemed to prioritize the creation of this office at the behest of his former employer, The Heritage Foundation.

“The head of OCR, Roger Severino, said in June that issuing these protections was a ‘priority’ for his office. His former employer, the Heritage Foundation, released a report in December urging the administration to provide these kinds of protections for medical workers.” [Buzzfeed, 1/17/18]

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The Heritage Foundation has had clear policy influence over the Trump administration, particularly as HHS threatens to gut funding for research using fetal tissue.

August 2018: Heritage recommended HHS end its contract with Advanced Bioscience Resources (ABR), among others, because ABR uses fetal tissue in its research

“ABR is among the entities under referral for criminal investigation for possibly profiting from the sale of fetal tissue from aborted babies. Among its sources for fetal tissue are Planned Parenthood-affiliated clinics… The FDA’s decision to contract with ABR is troubling, to say the least… In the meantime, the sad reality continues: Unborn children are aborted every day in clinics across the country, and their body parts are divvied up and procured by companies that in turn provide the tissue for taxpayer-funded research.” [, 8/10/18]

… Six weeks later, in September 2018, HHS terminated its contract with ABR and announced an ongoing audit into all fetal tissue research contracts.

“After a recent review of a contract between Advanced Bioscience Resources, Inc. and the Food and Drug Administration to provide human fetal tissue to develop testing protocols, HHS was not sufficiently assured that the contract included the appropriate protections applicable to fetal tissue research or met all other procurement requirements. As a result, that contract has been terminated, and HHS is now conducting an audit of all acquisitions involving human fetal tissue to ensure conformity with procurement and human fetal tissue research laws and regulations. In addition, HHS has initiated a comprehensive review of all research involving fetal tissue to ensure consistency with statutes and regulations governing such research, and to ensure the adequacy of procedures and oversight of this research in light of the serious regulatory, moral, and ethical considerations involved. Finally, HHS is continuing to review whether adequate alternatives exist to the use of human fetal tissue in HHS funded research and will ensure that efforts to develop such alternatives are funded and accelerated.” [, 9/24/18]

November 2018: Heritage hosted a panel critical of fetal tissue research featuring Dr. David Prentice and Dr. Tara Sander Lee, both of the Charlotte Lozier Institute… [, 11/27/18]

… A mere two weeks later, a House oversight hearing featured the exact same witnesses, demonstrating Heritage’s influence over lawmakers on the Hill, as well. [, 12/13/18]

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