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Court Rules Trump Can't Use Pregnancy Prevention Funds on Abstinence Orgs

Federal judges ruled in favor of Planned Parenthood, which sued the Trump administration for letting abstinence-only groups apply for funds meant to help prevent teen pregnancy.

by Marie Solis
Aug 31 2018, 7:31pm

 Chip Somodevilla for Getty Images

Federal judges have ruled that the Trump administration violated the law when it allowed abstinence-only organizations to apply for federal funds designated for the country's Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program.

The decision came down on Thursday in two separate cases, one litigated in an Oregon court and the other in New York. The latter of the two is the result of a lawsuit Planned Parenthood leveled against top officials in the Department of Health and Human Services in June. In the suit, Planned Parenthood argued that Secretary Alex Azar and Senior Policy Advisor Valerie Huber were unlawfully using the TPPP funds to promote “abstinence-only-until-marriage” and “sexual risk avoidance," which the organization said constituted too great a departure from the prevention program's original intent.

"Here, as discussed at length above, requiring applicants to choose from elements of a 'sexual risk reduction' or a 'sexual risk avoidance' approach, when no such program has ever existed or been implemented before, necessarily conflicts with the appropriation’s mandate that Tier 1 funds 'shall be for replicating programs that have been proven effective through rigorous evaluation,'" U.S. Magistrate Judge Youlee Yim You wrote in her opinion.

In other words: Not only is there no precedent for a federal abstinence-only program, but such a program doesn't meet the same standards as does TPPP, which is based on approaches to preventing teen pregnancy backed by science.

"Once again, the Trump-Pence administration tried to impose their abstinence-only agenda on young people across the country at the expense of young people’s health—and they failed," Dawn Laguens, the executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement following the ruling.

TPPP, a federal program established in 2010, under the Obama administration, targets adolescents by funding grants for groups like Planned Parenthood, local boys' and girls' clubs, and public research institutes across the country that bring evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention initiatives to their communities and investigate which approaches are most effective.

HHS made clear its intentions to shift the goals of TPPP in April, when department officials released two Funding Opportunity Announcements that promised to ensure that "all youth understand that teen sex is a risk behavior" and invited any groups that shared that view to apply for TPPP money.

The announcements arrived the day after a federal judge ruled that the Trump administration couldn't eliminate TPPP in its entirety, which officials had announced they would do in July 2017.

"We are disappointed with today’s ruling," HHS spokesperson Caitlin Oakley told The Hill in a statement at the time. "As numerous studies have shown, the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program is not working. Continuing the program in its current state does a disservice to the youth it serves and to the taxpayers who fund it."

Advocates for reproductive health and comprehensive sex education argue that TPPP is effective—last year, steadily declining teen pregnancy rates fell to an all-time low in the United States, which they believe is thanks in part to programs like TPPP.

"Young people deserve to have full, accurate information, and to learn the skills they need for their lives, their health, and their futures," Laguens said Friday. "We will continue to fight for young people and for everyone’s right to access the health care and information they need."