Trump & Teen pregnancy
Terry H. Schwadron
July 23, 2017
Day after day, Team Trump comes up with a new attack on common sense.
But a Huffington Post/Reveal, Center for Investigative Reporting report that the Trump administration has quietly eliminated $213 million in teen pregnancy prevention programs and research at more than 80 institutions around the country seems a particular assault on logic. It defies reality and it is a case study of putting forward the personal feelings of the Secretary involved in lieu of reasoned policy.
As outlined, the decision by the federal Health and Human Services department, the people who are trying their best to ruin health care in general, will end five-year grants designed to help 80 institutions like Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, Johns Hopkins University and American Indians reservation programs find valid ways to help teens make healthy decisions to avoid unwanted pregnancies.
Secretary Tom Price is first among a group Trump appointees in opposing federal funds for birth control, advocating abstinence rather than contraceptives. Of course, if you also believe in both strong anti-abortion policies and anti-children health and welfare programs, a logical link might be to promote use of contraceptives.
Coming on the heels of a decision by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to withdraw that department from active enforcement of campus sexual assaults and the antipathy in Republican circles for abortion counseling, it feels as if we have a government that simply wants to ignore social problems for happy talk.
The CIR reporting suggested that those running the programs were left baffled and angry. Health officials say cutting off money midway through multiyear research projects is highly unusual and wasteful because there can be no scientifically valid findings. The researchers will not have the funds to analyze data they have spent the past two years collecting or incorporate their findings into assistance for teens and their families.
“We are just reeling. We’re not sure how we’ll adapt,” said Jennifer Hettema, an associate research professor at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center, which was finding ways to help doctors talk to Native American and Latino teens about avoiding pregnancy.
The elimination of funds was done outside the traditional federal budget process. Congress has begun negotiations on the spending bill, and last Wednesday, an appropriations subcommittee cut money for teen pregnancy prevention.
Pat Paluzzi of the Healthy Teen Network in Baltimore said the axing of the program, including her project to develop an app to answer teen girls’ health questions, is “part and parcel of the shift to abstinence-only dollars. They don’t like to deal with the sexual reproductive health of teens,” Paluzzi said. “They frame it in this country as moral issues. Public health issues shouldn’t be political issues
More than a quarter of U.S. girls become pregnant by 20. The teen birth rate has continually declined over the past 20 years, but it remains high compared with other industrialized nations, particularly among poor and minority girls.
Among the programs that lost their funds: the Choctaw Nation’s efforts to combat teen pregnancy in Oklahoma, Johns Hopkins’ work with adolescent Apaches in Arizona, the University of Texas’ guidance for youth in foster care, the Chicago Department of Public Health’s counseling and testing for sexually transmitted infections and the University of Southern California’s workshops for teaching parents how to talk to middle school kids about delaying sexual activity.
Several grantees were told by officials at the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Adolescent Health that the decision to eliminate funding came from the office of the assistant secretary for health. Last month, President Donald Trump appointed a new chief of staff there, Valerie Huber, who favors abstinence as the solution to teen pregnancy, but did not talk about the reasons.
The funded programs were exclusively involved in preventing youth pregnancies; no abortion counseling was provided.
Luanne Rohrbach, an associate professor of preventive medicine at the University of Southern California, said the eliminated programs, including the one she directed, are scientifically based. “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.”
The USC program supports a sexual health education program in middle schools in the Los Angeles and Compton unified school districts and in an alternative high school system. Included are workshops that teach parents how to talk to kids about delaying sexual activity and where to find health services for preventing disease and pregnancy.
In a 2014 paper on the history of sex education, Huber criticized former President Obama for creating comprehensive sex education programs at the expense of focusing on abstinence.
“Pro-sex organizations used every opportunity to attack abstinence education,” Huber wrote 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.”
Tom Price, an orthopedic surgeon who was a U.S. representative from Georgia, was confirmed by Congress as health secretary in February. He has been vehemently opposed to federal programs involving contraception. In Congress, he voted to eliminate Title X, which subsidizes contraception for low-income women. He opposed an Affordable Care Act provision that requires insurance plans to cover contraception.
“Bring me one woman who has been left behind. Bring me one. There’s not one,” Price told a ThinkProgress reporter when asked about the provision in 2012. “The fact of the matter is this is a trampling on religious freedom and religious liberty in this country.”