US cannot cut teen pregnancy prevention grants : federal judge
Judge giving a verdict (Shutterstock)

A federal judge has blocked U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration from terminating grant funding for teen pregnancy prevention programs run by affiliates of Planned Parenthood, saying the decision was arbitrary.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Rice in Spokane, Washington, ruled on Tuesday that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services had failed to satisfactorily explain why it decided in July to terminate the five-year grants two years early.

HHS failed to follow proper administrative procedures and “arbitrarily and capriciously” terminated the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program, which provides grants for evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention programs, Rice said.

He rejected the administration’s contention that a ruling favoring Planned Parenthood would “handcuff” policymakers and force the government to continue funding multi-year grant projects even when they are not in its best interest.

“The Court does not seek to ‘handcuff policymakers,’ but merely finds that Plaintiffs have established that an agency must follow its own regulations in terminating a program,” Rice wrote.

The ruling was hailed by the plaintiffs in the case, Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho, Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and Hawaiian Islands and Planned Parenthood of the Heartland.

It followed a similar decision last week by a federal judge in Washington, D.C. who ruled in favor of four other grant recipients in finding the administration’s cuts were unlawful.

“The courts confirmed that the Trump-Pence administration’s attempt to impose its ideological agenda on young people is unlawful,” Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement.

HHS did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

The case was among four announced in February by Planned Parenthood, a non-profit that provides contraception, health screenings and abortions, and other services including those centered on the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program.

Congress created the program in 2010 during of Democratic President Barack Obama’s administration.

Congress has continued to appropriate about $110 million annually for the program since then. HHS currently funds 84 grants, and Planned Parenthood says the program serves 1.2 million young people nationally.

In July, however, HHS told recipients of 81 of the five-year grants that it would be terminating their agreements two years early. The remaining three were terminated in September.

The Planned Parenthood affiliates in their lawsuit called the decision part of the Republican Trump administration’s “broader political agenda against sexual and reproductive health and evidence-based and science-based programs.”

Trump’s Vice President Mike Pence, a former Indiana governor and strident opponent of abortion, has pushed Congress to defund Planned Parenthood.

Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Tom Brown