The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services announced it was canceling a Teen Pregnancy Prevention program two years early, cutting $2.2 million from King County. The county and local Planned Parenthood affiliates are filing suit.
The national Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program has been a clear success. In King County alone, there has been a 63 percent drop in the number of young girls getting pregnant.
And yet, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) pulled its funding — and brought to an abrupt halt ongoing research that could result in a national model.
Now, the entities that make the program work are fighting back.
On Thursday, Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands (PPGNHI), along with Public Health — Seattle & King County filed separate lawsuits against the Trump administration for “abruptly and arbitrarily” cutting funding to the program, which included research that the county’s sex-education program was conducting in the Midwest and South to test the effectiveness of its model.
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The Planned Parenthood affiliate filed its federal lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Spokane, and King County in U.S. District Court in Seattle.
The federal lawsuits seek an injunction to stop the administration from terminating grant money to the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program two years early.
And where might that money go? My bet — and Planned Parenthood’s — is abstinence-only programs.
These cuts have Vice President Mike Pence’s fingerprints all over them. He is the one who has been urging Congress to defund Planned Parenthood altogether.
That tells me that he has no clue about all that the nonprofit actually does, except perform (safe and legal) abortions, which make up about three percent of its services.
And, by the way, none of the federal funding Planned Parenthood receives goes to abortion services.
But that doesn’t matter. For this administration, having “Planned Parenthood” anywhere on your grant application means a hard no.
It’s right there in the 2018 federal budget: “ … prohibit any funding in the Labor-HHS appropriations bill for certain entities that provide abortions, including Planned Parenthood.”
Doesn’t matter that they do so many other things. Like, say, prevent unwanted pregnancies.
Created in 2010, the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program provides sex education, youth development, abstinence education and health-services resources for thousands of young people and families.
PPGNHI, which operates 27 health centers in Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho and Western Washington, credits the program with a “dramatic decline” in unintended pregnancies.
The teen birthrate in King County has fallen from 21.5 per 1,000 in 2008 to 8.0 per 1,000 in 2016. Again, 63 percent.
Why go after something that is preventing the abortions that we all wish didn’t have to happen? No one has bothered to explain.
In July, HHS announced it was immediately canceling the program two years early, cutting $2.2 million from King County, and effectively ending ongoing research before Congress could decide whether to re-appropriate the funds.
“We were never given a justification,” said Katie Rogers, spokeswoman for the local Planned Parenthood affiliate.
Maybe because there is none.
Planned Parenthood filed an appeal in July and never received a response.
The next month, King County filed its own formal appeal and has not received a response, either.
The federal grants include a five-year, $5 million award for King County’s FLASH sex-education curriculum, which is used in every school district. The popular program will remain, but the funding cuts meant an end to testing FLASH’s effectiveness in other states in the hopes of making it a national model.
The research was measuring students’ ability to delay sexual activity, for example, or, if sexually active, if they protect themselves from pregnancy and STDs after the curriculum.
“The Trump administration had no legal right to eliminate the teen-pregnancy-prevention grants and block us from completing our research,” King County Executive Dow Constantine said in a statement.
The lawsuit is part of a national effort to push back against the politicization of public-health initiatives, Constantine stated.
“Pulling back the funding completely disregards science and evidence in favor of right-wing ideology that is out of touch with reality,” he said in the statement. “We are fighting back to protect women’s and young people’s health, and to continue effective programs that meet our common goals.”
King County is represented in its suit by the national civil-rights law firm Democracy Forward.
PPGNHI is being joined in its suit by two other affiliates: Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho, and Planned Parenthood of the Heartland.
Their suit argues that dismantling the program’s grants — a cumulative loss of $7.5 million — “disproportionately affects communities with high rates of unintended teen pregnancy, youth of color, families in rural communities and youth who already face significant barriers when trying to access information or health care.”
“This administration has a reckless disregard for science and data,” said Carole Miller, chief learning officer at PPGNHI, in a statement. “By eliminating funding for evidence-based programming and redirecting funds to abstinence-only programs, we are setting ourselves up for failure.
“More than a million people benefit from these tools and resources,” Miller said, “often in places where there are no other programs that help young people and families make healthy decisions about their future.”
The Planned Parenthood suit also charges that the decision to end the program is part of a “systematic effort” by the administration “to erode the agency’s mission of upholding science and evidence-based policies.” It cited the HHS’ banning the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from using specific terms, such as “vulnerable,” “evidence-based,” “science-based” and “diversity” in agency communications; and said the administration had “rolled out a federal budget that shows a clear agenda to block women’s access to birth control and other preventive care, dismantle programs like Medicaid, and impose their extreme ideological beliefs on all people.”
Those beliefs are punishing people who are trying to better their lives and prevent unwanted pregnancies.
This lawsuit seeks to preserve something that is working, that is educating people.
And we should all want that, no matter how we voted.