In complaints filed simultaneously around the country this morning, Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho joined other organizations in suing the federal government for dropping Teen Pregnancy Prevention Programs two years before their grants were set to end.
The action stems from last June, when the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) abruptly announced in routine annual award letters that 5-year grants would be cancelled
starting in June 2018.
The money has been funding sexual education for teenagers most at risk. Importantly, the plaintiffs say, it's paying for the research and data analysis of those programs, which is meant to ensure they are measurably preventing pregnancy and improving teens' sexual health. The analysis can be used to improve and target programs to specific groups.
Cutting the funding short will mean no education for some of the estimated 1.2 million young people the programs were expected to serve across the country and can jeopardize the ongoing research, effectively wasting millions of taxpayer dollars, the complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Spokane, alleges.
The recipients, who include a variety of public health offices, universities and community groups, say the government agency has given them no explanation, though they've seen snippets of reasoning the agency provided for media reports. For example, HHS told CNN that the cut was due to "very weak evidence of positive impact of these programs," calling them "a poor use of more than $800 million in taxpayer dollars."
But that's largely inconsistent with praise that HHS has given grantees previously, and with data that's been collected so far.
"Rather, it is part and parcel of the Trump–Pence Administration’s broader political agenda against sexual and reproductive health and evidence-based and science-based programs," the complaint states.
The suit points to the fact that Valerie Huber, the newly-appointed leader of the office that doles out the HHS grants, previously worked in abstinence-only education. She's written op-eds criticizing the prevention programs as ineffective and for normalizing teen sex.
"Less than a month after her appointment to her position as chief of staff for the office that administers the TPP Program, HHS terminated all TPP Program grants," the complaint states.
The groups allege that the office cannot choose to end the grants,
because that goes against federal grant regulations, and because there is no plan to replace the programs with "medically accurate and age-appropriate
programs that reduce teen pregnancy" that HHS is mandated to provide.
For Eastern Washington, the cuts mean a loss of almost $2 million, with much of the planned education in the area going away.
That impacts places like Daybreak Youth Services
, which has had instruction tailored for the teen girls it serves, many of whom have been sexually assaulted.
As The Inlander reported last September:
For the past year, each teen going through the treatment center's program has spent about five hours over two days learning about sexual health, consent, and how to properly use condoms and avoid sexually transmitted infections and diseases. The comprehensive course is called Sexual Health and Adolescent Risk Prevention or SHARP, and it's specially designed for youth in juvenile detention centers or treatment programs.
"The SHARP program has really enabled them, in a really safe environment, to talk about their sexual health in an environment that is non-triggering for them," says Daybreak CEO Annette Klinefelter. "Being able to process what [consent] means is absolutely important for them to be sexually safe and healthy moving forward."
By working with more than 40 partners through its Healthy Youth Initiative, Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho says it was able to reach 8,000 teens.
While the teen birth rate has dropped steadily since 1991 — from 61.8 births per 1,000 teen girls (ages 15 to 19) to 22.3 per 1,000 in 2015 — the rates in the U.S. are still higher than other developed countries such as Canada and the United Kingdom, according to HHS.
The teen pregnancy rates in Central and Eastern Washington are nearly double the state
average: In Spokane, 21.7 of every 1,000 teens aged 15 to 17 got pregnant in 2015. The rate statewide that year was 11.9 per 1,000.
Since 2010, when the first round of Teen Pregnancy Prevention grants were
awarded, teen birth rates have dropped far more than in years before the programs were in place, continuing a downward trend that started in the early 1990s. The birth rate in 2010 was 34.3 births per 1,000 teens in 2010 and dropped to 24.2 per 1,000 in 2014, according to the Office of Adolescent Health.