Trump administration can’t just cut off a sex ed program, judge rules

Sex ed is back! Kind of.

Sex ed is back! Kind of.

Last summer, the Trump administration’s Department of Health and Human Services abruptly announced it would cut funding for an Obama-era sex ed program aimed at reducing teen pregnancy, arguing that it didn’t work (a curious claim, since the birth rate among teenagers fell every year between 2009 and 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control). Instead of ending the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program in 2020, as originally planned, the Trump administration decided it would end in 2018. In which case Eighty-one grantees would lose their funding.


Several of the grantees promptly sued the administration. And on Thursday, a federal judge in Washington, D.C. ruled in favor of four of those groups. Thanks to Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s order, HHS must restore funding to Policy and Research LLC, Project Vida Health Center, Sexual Health Initiatives for Teens, and the South Carolina Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.

"Because of the court’s ruling, the four grantees will be able to continue to serve their local communities and to conduct important research,” Sean Sherman, an attorney at the Public Citizen Litigation Group, which represented the four grantees, told the Hill. The court’s decision confirms that HHS must administer the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program in accordance with the agency’s own regulations and the requirement of reasoned decision-making."

As of 2016, the current birth rate among teens aged 15 through 19 is 20.3 births per 1,000 women — a 9 percent decline from 2015.

The Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program not only aimed to provide American teenagers with comprehensive sex ed, which can include information about safe sex and abstinence, but also sought to give researchers better insight into what types of sex ed truly help cut down on unintended pregnancies, particularly among students of color and LGBTQ students, Guttmacher Institute’s Senior Policy Manager Jesseca “Jesse” Boyer told VICE News prior to the ruling. Losing funding in 2018, instead of 2020, hurt grantees’ ability to conduct that research.

“It’s not just about removing the resources at the community level, for young people being served,” Boyer said. “It’s the fact that we’re taking [out] the last years’ worth of evaluation and research, that has really been a huge leap forward, from where the field had been prior to 2008.”

HHS didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Several other lawsuits involving TPPP grantees are still winding their way through the court system.

The Trump administration’s decision to cut off TPPP is part of a larger move toward abstinence-only sex ed, which advocates have rebranded as “sexual risk avoidance” education. Title X, a family-planning program, has also come under intense fire. Typically, an independent review panel of public health experts determines who receives Title X grants. But under the Trump administration, Politico reported, just one person will make that call: Valerie Huber, the acting deputy assistant secretary for population affairs at HHS and the former head of Ascend, a group once named the National Abstinence Education Association.

“It’s part of the Trump administration political agenda, right,” Boyer said. “It’s not about promoting education; it’s about promoting this idea that young people not only shouldn’t have sex but people of any age shouldn’t have sex outside of marriage.”