In an ongoing effort to wipe away any vestige of Barack Obama’s presidency, the Trump administration has gutted federal funding of evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention programs and research. The programs targeted were initially awarded 5-year grants set to run through June 2020. But under newly appointed Department of Health and Human Services head Tom Price (who, as we’ve written previously, is both anti-LGBT rights and believes there is “not one woman” in the U.S. who doesn’t have access to birth control), these grants will now end abruptly in June 2018.
The defunding of research halfway through a multi-year grant cycle essentially makes any data gathered thus far useless. The organizations collecting the research can do nothing to analyze or implement the findings into new programs. It’s a staggering waste of funds: $213.6 million to be exact.
It’s no secret how Trump and his administration feel about federal funding for contraception. Trump appointed HHS Secretary Tom Price, who is vocally opposed to federal funding of birth control, and also chose anti-contraception advocate Teresa Manning to head Title X, the nation’s federal family planning program. A House Committee recently voted to eliminate almost $286 million in funding to Title X.
But it’s shocking that the administration is gutting funding for programs that exist to improve the health and lives of young people — including funding for public health departments and programs for youth in foster care. This is especially frustrating because we know what works: comprehensive sexuality education that includes information for teens on how to prevent unintended pregnancy. And we know what doesn’t: states with abstinence-only education have the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country.
Here are three more reasons why these programs are so important:
- The teen pregnancy rate is at it lowest level in almost forty years. According to a CDC study, fewer teens than ever are giving birth in the U.S. There have been record decreases in teen pregnancy across all ethnicities but especially among Latinx and Black teens. The evidence, notes the Guttmacher Institute, points to increased use of contraception for the cause of these steep declines: “The vast majority of the decline in teen pregnancy—86%—was the result of improvements in contraceptive use.” Programs that help young people learn about healthy relationships and options will only help continue the downward trend. To throw away what works because it doesn’t fit with a political agenda will wreak havoc on young people’s health and lives.
- The defunded programs work with teens who are the most vulnerable to unintended pregnancy and those programs that are already successful. The rate of teen pregnancies in 10 Choctaw Nation counties in Oklahoma is higher than the national rate. The Choctaw Nation’s program to target at-risk teens in Oklahoma was set to offer Native American youth, for the first time, an evidence-based pregnancy prevention curriculum in middle and high schools. Another of the gutted programs was through the University of Texas’ Health Science Center. The UT program aims to work with particularly vulnerable groups of young people, including youth in juvenile detention centers and youth in foster care. But what’s most astounding about this one is that it is already incredibly successful — in only three years, the program contributed to a 19 percent reduction in the teen birth rate in San Antonio, TX.
- These programs aren’t only about preventing pregnancy. Teens deserve information on how to protect against sexually transmitted infections and how to navigate relationships. Chicago’s Department of Public Health had a grant to offer on-site sexual health education, screenings for STIs, and confidential counseling with a health educator. Why? Because Chicago has the first and second highest rates in the nation, respectively, of gonorrhea and chlamydia infections among teens. The city simply wants to help young people protect themselves against these infections and against HIV by providing this care, along with education, to teens in Chicago’s public high schools.
The Reveal Center for Investigative Reporting reported that the cuts were about a shift to abstinence-only programs:
Pat Paluzzi of the Healthy Teen Network in Baltimore said the axing of the program, including her project to develop an app to answer teen girls’ health questions, is “part and parcel of the shift to abstinence-only dollars.”
“They don’t like to deal with the sexual reproductive health of teens,” Paluzzi said. “They frame it in this country as moral issues. Public health issues shouldn’t be political issues.”