The fingerprints of social conservatives and anti-abortion religious fanatics are all over a decision today by the Trump administration to suddenly cut short grant programs put in place by President Obama designed to lower the rate of out of wedlock teenage pregnancy.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) sent out notices to 81 institutions across the country that five-year grants for the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program (TPPP) they already received and are successfully operating 44 programs in 39 states are going to end in June 2018, two years earlier than planned.
@BrieZeltner reports on the loss of $2 million in grant funds to address teen pregnancy in Cuyahoga County: https://t.co/tFXgco29ER
— CCBH_Net (@CCBH_Net) August 3, 2017
The programs, first created in 2010, were tailored to help reduce teen pregnancy in specific areas and among population segments where the need to address the epidemic of teen pregnancy is greatest, including the city of Baltimore, where the teen birth rates in three times higher than the national average.
“There was no communication about the reason,” Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen told The Hill. “The notice of the award just stated that instead of a five-year grant, it is now a three-year grant.”
The loss of $3.5 million in funding will mean 20,000 fewer students will have access to reproductive health education and other services.
“We don’t have another way to fill this deficit,” said Wen. “This will leave a huge hole in our ability to deliver health education.”
HHS cuts teen pregnancy prevention program funds https://t.co/CEuFDV403l
— Collected News (@CollectedN) July 14, 2017
The HHS “offered very little explanation” for the change, according to Bill Albert, chief program officer at the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy in Washington, D.C.
Albert said all grantees were told was the Trump administration was seeking something that was a “better fit for its priorities, but those were no specified.”
HHS spokesman Mark Vafiades told The Hill that the program was cut short because there is little evidence it has had a positive impact. He also said there is no funding for it in Trump’s budget proposal for fiscal 2018.
If they were actually interested in the truth, Trump’s HHS could have found support for the program in statistics provided by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
“In 2015,” reported the Center, citing a 2017 report by the National Center for Health Statistics, “a total of 229,715 babies were born to women aged 15-19 years, for a birth rate of 22.3 per 1,000 women in this age group. This is another record low for U.S. teens and a drop of 8 percent from 2014. Birth rates fell 9 percent for women aged 15-17 years and 7 percent for women aged 18-19 years.”
So if the programs are working, what is the real reason the HHS has put them on the chopping block with no advance warning or explanation?
The answer is that Trump and especially Vice President Mike Pence support abstinence-only sex education – asking teens to give up all sex, rather than teaching them safe sex methods such as using condoms.
Trump then chose an HHS Secretary in Tom Price who is also in favor of abstinence programs that are strongly supported by religious groups that often are against birth control and fight against the right of a woman to have an abortion if she wishes.
Price appointed as chief of staff to the assistant secretary for health, which has oversight of the teen pregnancy prevention program, Valerie Huber, an outspoken advocate of abstinence education over all other kinds of prevention and education programs.
In an opinion article for The Hill when she was still president of Ascend, which promotes what it calls Sexual Risk Avoidance education, Huber argued that most of the “so-called comprehensive sex education….typically normalizes teen sex. In fact, teens report that these programs make them feel pressured to have sex.”
“The healthiest message for youth,” preached Huber, “is one that gives youth the skills and information to avoid the risks of teen sex, not merely reduce them.”
She added that “policymakers finally have an opportunity” to “normalize sexual delay for all teens and especially for those teens who currently feel pressured to have sex by social media and their favorite music – or their sex education classes.”
Now Huber is the one making the policy.
A coalition of Democrats on the Senate Health Committee has called the decision to end the grant program early “highly unusual” and “short-sighted.” They point out Congress has not even passed the 2018 budget yet and could reinstate money Trump wants to cut.
I joined 149 @HouseDemocrats last month in urging HHS to reconsider cuts to the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program. https://t.co/4MafdiQrM4
— Rep. Frank Pallone (@FrankPallone) August 10, 2017
With the social conservatives now in charge, however, even if there is money, it is not going to be used to teach teens about safe sex, or how to use birth control, or when abortion is a realistic option because those are all taboo to the religious right.
Instead, they will tell young people with raging hormones, including many who are stuck in a tough economic environment, who are surrounded by drugs and gangsta temptations, to just say no to sex. That has been tried before and does not work.
Huber cites statistics she claims shows that the current program is a failure but her only evidence that abstinence is a better plan is anecdotal – teens who say they learned that not having sex is the best thing for their lives.
Thank you, @PattyMurray, for demanding answers on destructive Trump admin cuts to teen pregnancy prevention program! https://t.co/CjeqZwEQPc
— Liz Borkowski (@LizBorkowski) August 5, 2017
The irony, of course, is that even if abstinence works for some, it is not going to be successful with most teens, and in the end the shift in programs will be likely to raise the number of teen pregnancies, and that would lead to even more abortions – which is exactly what these Trumpains on their high horses do not want to happen.
The Center for Disease Control has laid out the consequences of getting this wrong. Teen pregnancy and childbirth result in billions in costs to taxpayers for increased health care and foster care. It leads to more crime and higher incarceration rates among children and teen parents.
Pregnant teens tend to drop out of school, so there is less income among teen mothers who have less education. “Only about 50 percent of teen mothers receive a high school diploma by 22 years of age,” says the CDC, “whereas approximately 90 percent of women who do not give birth during adolescence graduate from high school.”
In addition, the children of teen moms are likely to be caught up in the same downward spiral where they have lower educational achievement, more health problems and are more likely to go to jail during adolescence. And of course, it leads to higher unemployment.
Huber, no doubt, will continue to argue that the way to achieve lower pregnancy rates is abstinence but in the real world that is not going to work for most of the teens in at risk populations and low-income communities.
A mix of programs is not an unreasonable solution, but that is not the Trumpian way. they want to kill all programs and all ideas that do not agree with their narrow-minded, smug view of the world. That is what is happening here.
And once again, Trump’s mistakes will have a cost that will rock our country for years to come, far beyond his troubled tenure n the White House.
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