On Friday, Planned Parenthood announced it would be suing Valerie Huber, the Department of Health and Human Services official instrumental in promoting the Trump administration's abstinence-only agenda.
In the suit, Planned Parenthood attorneys argue that both Huber’s and HHS Secretary Alex Azar’s radical remaking of the country’s Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program (TPPP) to prioritize an “abstinence-only-until-marriage” and “sexual risk avoidance” curriculum takes too dramatic a turn from what the program was meant to do in the first place: use scientifically-supported and evidence-based approaches to curb teen pregnancy.
Planned Parenthood says it’s unlawful to put the federal funds toward a mission so divorced from what they were originally intended for. If a judge rules in the organization’s favor, it would effectively safeguard TPPP against any ideologically-driven attacks.
"Valerie Huber has a long record of pushing ineffective and harmful abstinence-only programs. Now she’s inflicting her agenda on the nation’s young people," Sonya Norsworthy, the interim vice president of education at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, tells Broadly in a statement.
"We’ve seen firsthand how information, education and resources empower young people to plan their futures and stay healthy," she continues. "Abstinence-only programs are not only ineffective, they shame and stigmatize LGBTQ youth and survivors of sexual assault."
Huber previously served as the president of Ascend, formerly known as the National Abstinence Education Association, for a decade before taking up her post in HHS. A rare shift within the department in March gave her complete control over over who and what the country’s $260 million in family-planning funds go toward.
With her newly gained power, Huber announced her plans to shift the goals of TPPP in April, when the department issued two Funding Opportunity Announcements that boasted of funding more Teen Pregnancy Prevention programs than it did in its previous iteration. But there was a catch: The new programs would focus on “ensuring all youth understand that teen sex is a risk behavior,” and emphasize how the “avoidance” and “reduction” of that risk — coded words and phrases that all suggest a move toward abstinence-only education.
The month before, Huber spoke about her hopes for the program during a closed-door meeting part of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, an annual conference where, this year, Huber was one of two officials representing the United States.
“She spoke of ‘trying to get women to make better choices in the future,’ which is that terrifying and outmoded idea that women make bad sexual choices and that what happens to them is their fault,” a delegate who sat in on the meeting told BuzzFeed News at the time.
Huber and her colleagues at HHS had initially tried to slash TPPP altogether, deciding to eliminate the program in July 2017, just a month after word that the country’s steadily declining teen pregnancy rate had hit an all-time low. Their decision to end the Obama-era program was met with a legal challenge leveled by the city of Baltimore, Seattle, Washington’s King County, and the Healthy Teen Network — all of which received grants from the program — which put enough pressure on the administration to keep it.
Now, it’s the goal of advocates like Planned Parenthood to make sure that the program doesn’t just continue running, but takes up the mantle of science, reason, and reproductive justice.
Norsworthy says: "Planned Parenthood will fight Huber’s dangerous policies and any efforts by Trump officials to attack young people’s access to education and information."