Last year, the Trump administration abruptly cut federal funding to the Obama-era Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program, choosing instead to favor programs that promote abstinence. This week, NBC News reported that several Democratic senators have accused Trump of violating court orders by pushing abstinence research, citing a federal judge's ruling that the administration's funding cuts were unlawful.
On Wednesday, Democratic Sens. Patty Murray, Tammy Baldwin, Cory Booker, and Mazie Hirono sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, in which they expressed their concern that the Trump administration was violating a court order by shifting funding from pregnancy prevention programs to abstinence initiatives. In the letter, which Bustle has obtained, the senators suggested that the administration was using a third-party contractor to shift federal funds.
"By attempting to direct funding in accordance with ideological goals, rather than towards the development of evidence-based practices, the Trump-Pence Administration is undoing years of progress towards supporting adolescent sexual and reproductive health and wellbeing," the letter stated.
Earlier this year, federal courts ruled that the Trump administration had violated the law when it allowed abstinence-only organizations to apply for federal funds specifically designated for the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program, according to Vice. However, shortly after these rulings, HHS awarded $21.5 million in federal funding to MITRE Corporation to perform a "Teen Pregnancy Prevention Study," according to NBC News.
Details about this specific study have not been made public, per the New York Daily News, but MITRE has studied “sexual risk avoidance education" for HHS in the past, prompting Democratic senators to argue that the Trump administration is violating court orders by continuing to fund abstinence-focused research.
Democratic senators were not the only ones concerned; in the House, California Rep. Barbara Lee organized a similar letter to Azar, alongside her fellow Democrats Lloyd Doggett, Michelle Lujan Grisham, Ted Deutch, Pramila Jayapal, and Marc Veasey. In the letter, which Bustle has also obtained, these Democratic representatives echoed the concerns of their colleagues in the Senate, arguing that the Trump administration was trying to "undermine the evidence based Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program."
"The TPPP is making a vital contribution to building a body of knowledge of what best supports adolescents to prevent unintended pregnancy, at a time when there is growing bipartisan commitment to evidence-based policymaking," the representatives wrote.
According to NBC News, the Trump administration's decision to redirect federal funding to abstinence-programs was guided by officials who have championed abstinence. One of these officials is Valerie Huber, who last year became the chief of staff to the Department of Health and Human Services official who oversees adolescent health, per the New York Times. Prior to assuming this position, Huber led an abstinence education advocacy organization, and argued that the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program "normalizes teen sex."
In a report published earlier this year, the Guttmacher Institute argued that the Trump administration has been misrepresenting evidence in its promotion of abstinence. The Trump administration's approach to the issue of teen pregnancy represents a significant shift from that of the Obama administration, the Guttmacher Institute wrote, especially in its assertion that abstinence is an “optimal health outcome” for Title X clients.
Democrats' warnings about the Trump administration's reallocation of federal funding to abstinence programs make similar arguments. Democrats in both the House and Senate have told Azar that Trump is trying to shift away from an evidence-based approach to pregnancy prevention programs, even after federal judges have ordered him not to do so.