Try as it might, the Trump administration can’t just halt ongoing efforts when it comes to teen pregnancy prevention programs—at least, not yet.
Last month, the administration had announced its intention to discontinue the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program grants, which were awarded under Obama through the Department of Human and Health Services (HHS). The grants fund community programs with proven success in reducing the rates of teen pregnancies. Instead, the government would like to focus more on abstinence-only education.
But courts around the country have now blocked the administration’s attempts to cut funding in four different jurisdictions. Federal judges in Washington, Baltimore and Spokane, Washington, have all ruled against the government and yesterday, US District Judge John Coughenour in Washington state, joined the group. Coughenour ruled in favor of King County, one of the beneficiaries of the grants that the government now intends to reduce, calling the government’s action arbitrary. The administration doesn’t have the right to discontinue funding that its predecessors had committed to, he said.
HHS, which had awarded the five-year grants in 2015, will have to continue funding them for the next two years, until completion, Coughenour ruled. This is an important decision, particularly ahead of another hearing on the same matter: Healthy Futures of Texas, an organization working to reduce unplanned pregnancies, filed a class action suit against the HHS in Washington, DC on behalf of all grantees; a ruling against the HHS would mean all grants have to be funded till conclusion.
Though Coughenour’s decision doesn’t get into the merits of the program, focusing instead on the legitimacy of discontinuing it, it is in line with what seems to be the country’s thoughts on sex education. A survey of 1,000 likely voters (18 and over) sponsored by Planned Parenthood found that 68% are in favor of continuing teen-pregnancy prevention programs. The survey also found people overwhelmingly in support of sex-education programs (89% want them in middle school, and 98% in high school), with only 15% supporting abstinence-only programs.
Though the HHS, under the leadership of former abstinence-only advocate Valerie Huber, is promoting “sexual risk avoidance” education (another term for abstinence), large abstinence-only programs—a Republican favorite—tend to correlate with increases in pregnancies.