After quietly cutting funding for family planning services last year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has agreed to reinstate some funding for teen pregnancy prevention, NBC News reports. Nine Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program (TPP) grantees, including local governments and non-profits, sued to reinstate their funding earlier this month. An attorney with Democracy Forward represented the plaintiffs after obtaining documents revealing that the Trump administration cut the program against the advice of longtime HHS staff.
"It is a positive and encouraging development for the government to agree to preserve the funds while the Court considers the legality of the Trump Administration's termination of the grants," Charisma Troiano, press secretary for Democracy Forward, tells Bustle.
Democracy Forward argued that the documents, which included internal HHS emails and records, showed political appointees with "anti-science, anti-evidence backgrounds" made the decision to cut funding for teen pregnancy prevention. The group named Valerie Huber, Teresa Manning, and Steven Valentine as those directly involved in ending the program. All three officials have been vocal about their opposition to abortion and contraception access, whether they made those views known before or after they joined the Trump administration.
Democracy Forward executive director Anne Harkavy said in a statement last week that "these new documents lend powerful support to the argument that HHS's abrupt decision to stop funding this program was unlawful."
In July 2017, the Trump administration cut two years of funding off of five-year grants meant to help organizations work with teenagers across the country to prevent unwanted pregnancies. A total of 81 institutions were expected to lose funding beginning July 1, The Center for Investigative Reporting noted at the time.
Although HHS has stepped back its previous decision, the future of the program is still up in the air. The administration will set aside funds through August for three of the plaintiffs who sued, NBC News reports. The national organization Healthy Teen Network, the city of Baltimore, and Washington state's King County would have otherwise been without the grant money at the end of June.
Extending their funding through August gives both HHS and the organizations some leeway until the court battle come to a conclusion. If the grants weren't kept intact through August, the money could have been reallocated elsewhere before the court had a chance to decide whether or not terminating the TPP program was unlawful.
Dr. Leana Wen, Baltimore City's health commissioner, wrote in an op-ed published on The Hill earlier this month that the city received an $8.6 million grant in June 2015 to implement "comprehensive, evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention education" in more than 120 middle schools and high schools. Wen expressed her concern for the 20,000 Baltimore students currently benefitting from health education funded by the endangered program:
In Baltimore, we do not see this funding cut as a number. We see the faces of 20,000 teens who will not receive critical pregnancy prevention education. We see the effect on their futures and on their childrens futures. We see the impact on our communities. We fear what this means for valuing science and evidence, and for how we can continue to fulfill our responsibility of protecting health and ensuring well-being.
America's teen pregnancy rate hit an all-time low in 2017, down 67 percent from 1991. Dr. Haywood L. Brown, president of The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said in a statement last year that cutting TPP funding would "turn back the clock on the progress made towards reducing high rates of teen and unintended pregnancy." He further called the administration's decision to end the TPP program "highly unusual" and "a step backward for ensuring healthy moms and healthy babies."