In an effort to save an Obama-era program targeted at reducing teen pregnancies, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America is suing the federal government.
On Thursday and Friday of last week (June 21 and 22), the organization filed lawsuits in United States district courts in Spokane, Washington, and New York City against the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Secretary, Alex Azar, and Senior Policy Advisor, Valerie Huber over changes in funding requirements for the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program. Per CNN:
[Planned Parenthood] claims that the Trump administration made unlawful changes to the program’s funding guidance in order to emphasize “abstinence-only-until-marriage” approaches to curbing teen pregnancy. The organization also said it views the changes as a pretext for the eventual elimination of the program.
“The lawsuit seeks to protect the future of the TPP program,” Planned Parenthood said in a statement. “If successful, the lawsuit will ensure that the TPP program maintains its evidence-based principles and that new grantees are not forced to push dangerous (abstinence-only-until-marriage) curriculums.”
The lawsuit specifically argues against a change that HHS made in April. Then, the department released a document outlining guidelines for grant recipients, saying they must “clearly communicate” that teen sex is a risk behavior. The statement compared teen sex to other risk behaviors, such as drug use.
It stressed that approaches for discussing sex with teenagers should focus on skills that would encourage abstinence. In its lawsuit, CNN reports:
Planned Parenthood argues that these funding stipulations violate the congressional mandate that underlies the program: to provide federal grants for evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention programs. A 2016 report published in the journal Pediatrics concluded that abstinence-only sexual education programs are ineffective.
The Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program began in 2010 under then-President Barack Obama. It provides grants to programs that use evidence-based program models to prevent teen pregnancy and related sexual risk behaviors. The White House stated in a 2014 report that the program had “a particular interest in reaching high-risk, vulnerable and culturally under-represented youth populations.”
Since its inception, the teen pregnancy rate continues to reach historic lows in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 1991, the U.S. teen birth rate was 61.8 births per 1,000 females ages 15 to 19. In 2016, it reached a record low of 20.3 births per 1,000 teens. White teens made up 14.2 percent; Black teens comprised 29.3 percent; and 31.9 percent were Latinx teenagers.
This is not for first change instituted by HHS regarding the program. In August 2017, CBS News reports that grantees “were taken aback when the date was changed last month on their notice of award documents from an office within HHS, noting their grants would end in June 2018, instead of in 2020.” The change would have resulted in approximately $200 million not being granted. In response, a number of lawsuits were filed against the agency. In each, federal judges ruled against HHS and said that an early termination of grants was against the law.