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For the Fourth Time, a Federal Judge Has Ruled Against Trump’s Cuts to Teen Pregnancy Grants (Updated)

Jessica Mason Pieklo

The Trump administration loses yet another legal battle over its attempts to push abstinence-only-until-marriage programs.

UPDATE, June 4, 9:39 a.m.: A fifth federal judge, this time in Washington D.C., on Friday ruled against he Trump administration’s proposed grant cuts. Every court that has examined the administration’s actions has ruled against Trump’s HHS.

A federal judge on Tuesday ruled that the Trump administration must continue providing a federal grant to King County, Washington, meant to help drive down teenage pregnancy rates. It is the fourth time in recent weeks a federal judge has ordered the Trump administration to continue the grants.

The fight involves funding under the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program (TPPP) and the Trump administration’s efforts to replace evidence-based sex education and health standards with abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. 

The national nonprofit, nonpartisan legal organization Democracy Forward and the Pacifica Law Group of Seattle represented the plaintiff, Washington state’s King County, in the lawsuit. The ruling marks the fourth time federal courts have ruled the administration terminated TPPP grants unlawfully, and a class action lawsuit to preserve other TPPP grants was just certified last week.

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“We sued the federal government because they are attempting to eliminate funding for programs based on science and evidence in favor of right-wing ideology that is out of touch with reality,” Dow Constantine, King County executive, said in a statement following the decision.

Created by Congress in 2010, TPPP provides funding for organizations working to cut teen pregnancy rates, primarily through comprehensive sex education. As detailed in the court filings, 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. 

Trump’s proposed budget for 2018 called for eliminating TPPP and sought to replace it with $277 million extended toward abstinence education. The move was spearheaded by Valerie Huber shortly after she was appointed to the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the federal agency in charge of administering the grants. Huber is a notorious 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 has found such education to be ineffective and unethical.

As detailed in court documents, the TPPP grants were supposed to run through the end of June 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. Advocates sued the administration in February, arguing the cuts were unlawful. 

On Tuesday, a fourth federal court agreed and ruled that HHS had acted in a “arbitrary and capricious” manner when it decided to terminate the program two years early. 

“HHS’s failure to articulate any explanation for its action, much less a reasoned one based on relevant factors, exemplifies arbitrary and capricious agency action meriting reversal,” Judge John Coughenour wrote.

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