News Law and Policy

Trump Can’t End Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program, Court Rules

Jessica Mason Pieklo

A second federal court has ordered the Trump administration continue funding comprehensive sex-education programming.

A federal judge in Washington state has issued a permanent injunction preventing the Trump administration from cutting grants to Planned Parenthood that help fund a teen pregnancy prevention program. Tuesday’s decision is the second from a federal court ordering the administration to continue funding the program. 

The U.S. Congress in 2010 created the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program (TPPP) under President Obama to provide funding for organizations working to cut teen pregnancy rates, primarily through comprehensive sex education. The program provides federal grants for evidence-based initiatives targeting underserved communities with high rates of teen pregnancy, including youth of color, youth in foster care, and youth in rural communities, according to the lawsuits. 

President Trump’s proposed budget for 2018 called for eliminating TPPP and sought $277 million to extend abstinence education in its place. The administration announced cuts to the program shortly after appointing Valerie Huber to the Office of Assistant Secretary of Health at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the federal agency tasked with administering the grants. Huber is an anti-birth control advocate who was “instrumental” in attempts to push the agency away from evidence-based comprehensive sex education programs and toward abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. Research, however, has found such education to be ineffective and unethical.

The grants for the program were supposed to run through 2020, but in July 2017, HHS notified the recipients of 81 TPPP grants that their funding would be terminated as of June 30, 2018—two years before their projects were set to end—alleging the program was ineffective at reducing teen pregnancy rates. 

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HHS neither provided an explanation for the decision to end the grants early nor did it give the plaintiffs or the other grantees any ability to challenge that decision, according to the lawsuits

Advocates sued the administration in February, arguing the cuts were unlawful. On Tuesday the court agreed and ruled that HHS had acted “arbitrarily and capriciously” when it decided to terminate the program two years early. 

It noted that “the public interest weighs in favor of Plaintiffs, as [the order] would prevent harm to the community … and prevent loss of data regarding the effectiveness of teen pregnancy prevention.”

The decision means the administration must continue with the grant agreements for the next year.

“The courts confirmed that the Trump-Pence administration’s attempt to impose its ideological agenda on young people is unlawful,” said Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in a statement. “Planned Parenthood applauds the court’s decision and is proud to continue to serve Americans in the TPPP, along with our partners.”

Tuesday’s ruling follows last week’s announcement by the administration that it would radically remake the science-based TPPP to push ineffective abstinence-only-until-marriage sex education programming. 

”The Trump-Pence administration can’t turn back progress, ignore science and the needs of young people, to push its ideological agenda,” said Rachel Todd, director of education for Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho, in a statement following the ruling. “Shifting funds from a wide range of evidence-based programs to focus exclusively on programs that emphasize abstinence-only programs will disproportionately harm young people —including survivors of sexual violence, LGBTQ teens, youth of color, families in rural communities, and youth who already face significant barriers to accessing information or health care.”

Attorneys representing the administration argued HHS had the authority to end the grants at any time. 

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