While the Senate Republicans cobble together a healthcare law that would eviscerate funding to Medicaid, the Trump administration pulled $213.6 million from programs that work to prevent teen pregnancy.
The Center for Investigative Reporting revealed the administration has gutted funding for research and programs at more than 80 institutions including Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles and John Hopkins University.
The decision was made by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services headed by Secretary Tom Price (R-GA). As a Congressman, Price argued that “not one” woman ever struggled to afford birth control, telling ThinkProgress, “Bring me one woman” who doesn’t have access to birth control.
The programs in place were designed to give teens medically accurate information to help protect themselves against unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections. However, Price has long been supportive of ineffective abstinence-only education programs. He claimed such scientifically accurate programs “promotes promiscuity among young people.”
Price isn’t the only one at HHS who wants to see such programs lose funding. Teresa Manning was appointed the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Population Affairs to oversee the distribution of federal funding of family planning funding as part of Title X.
In a 2003 radio interview, Manning outright disputed the effectiveness of contraception. “Of course, contraception doesn’t work. Its efficacy is very low,” she said. Her opinion is scientifically inaccurate as birth control methods have a 91 to 99 percent effective rate when “typically used” and the rate is even hire with “perfect” use, according to the Center for Disease Control.
The move ends a five-year grant program instituted by former President Barack Obama’s administration aimed at finding scientifically accurate ways to help teens make healthy decisions that help them avoid unwanted pregnancies. More than one-fourth of girls become pregnant before age 20 despite declines over the last two decades. The rate still remains high compared to other industrialized nations.
One program worked with the Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma through Johns Hopkins’ to combat teen pregnancy. They’ve also worked with the Apaches in Arizona and through a University of Texas program that did guidance for youth in foster care. The Chicago Department of Health will also lose funding for a counseling and testing program for sexually transmitted infections.
The program cuts aren’t even pro-abstinence, as it will cut funding for a University of Southern California program that held workshops for parents who needed help talking to their children about delaying sexual activity.
“We are just reeling. We’re not sure how we’ll adapt,” said associate research professor Jennifer Hettema, at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center.
“They don’t like to deal with the sexual reproductive health of teens,” said Pat Paluzzi, who works at the Healthy Teen Network in Baltimore. “They frame it in this country as moral issues. Public health issues shouldn’t be political issues.”
Some grantees were told by HHS officials that the decision came directly from Manning’s office.
University of Southern California associate professor Luanne Rohrbach said that her programs have developed scientifically based information as part of preventative medicine programs.
“We took decades of research on how to effectively approach prevention and have applied it on a large scale nationally,” she said. “We’re not out there doing what feels good. We’re doing what we know is effective. There are a lot of data from the program to show that it works.”
President Donald Trump appointed Valerie Huber, a new chief of staff for the Office of Adolescent Health. She’s been a vocal critic of Obama’s sexual health education programs that used a comprehensive approach with scientifically accurate information.
“Pro-sex organizations used every opportunity to attack abstinence education,” Huber wrote in a 2014 paper with co-author Michael Firmin. “This agenda was (and is) at least as much about destroying abstinence education as it is about supporting ‘comprehensive’ sex education. … The current Obama administration has used its fiscal scalpel to eliminate the growth of abstinence education within America’s school systems.”
Teen birth rates remain higher in the United States than other international counterparts. In 1991, 62 out of every 1,000 women 15 to 19 gave birth. By 2014 that number dropped to 24 teens. Health officials say that the primary reason is attributed to a greater access to birth control as sexual activity has remained constant over the same time frame. By contrast, research shows that abstinence-only education delays sexual activity by no more than 18 months and those teens are more likely to contract sexually transmitted diseases because they aren’t informed about ways to protect themselves. They were also less likely to seek medical testing and treatment for their STIs.
“I have tremendous respect for women and the many roles they serve that are vital to the fabric of our society and our economy,” Trump tweeted on International Women’s Day in March.