Lawsuits Demand Trump Stop Playing Politics With Teen Pregnancy

Four separate lawsuits allege the Trump administration is unlawfully pushing abstinence-only sex education policies.

The lawsuits ask that funding for the program be reinstated to serve the approximately 1.2 million young people that would benefit. Shutterstock

The Trump administration illegally ended teen pregnancy prevention grants two years ahead of schedule and is unconstitutionally promoting abstinence-only sex education, according to allegations made in four federal lawsuits filed Thursday. 

The lawsuits were filed in federal courts in Washington, Maryland, and the District of Columbia on behalf of nine local government, health care, and oversight organizations. They claim the administration acted arbitrarily and capriciously in ending the grant programs. The lawsuits claim the administration is improperly promoting religious-based abstinence-only sex education programs in violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, which prohibits government entanglements or endorsements of religions or beliefs. 

“HHS’s conduct impermissibly coerces grantees into adopting Christian views by withdrawing access to funding for pregnancy prevention programs unless grantees espouse a Christian viewpoint in administering those programs,” one of the complaints stated.

“The Trump administration is attempting to unlawfully terminate a successful program to reduce teen pregnancy based on an ideologically driven crusade,” Sean Sherman, the lead Public Citizen Litigation Group attorney representing the plaintiffs in the D.C. litigation, said in a statement. “The termination of these grants in the middle of their five-year programs violates the Administrative Procedure Act and will cause substantial unnecessary harm to the communities these organizations serve,” Sherman said.

In 2010 the U.S. Congress created the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program (TPP) to help address teen pregnancy rates. According to the complaints, the program provides federal grants for evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention programs targeting underserved communities with high rates of teen pregnancy—including youth of color, youth in foster care, and youth in rural communities. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the federal agency that administers the program, currently funds 76 TPP Program grantees consisting of states, non-profit organizations, school districts, universities, and others.

As of September 2016, the TPP Program was on track to serve an estimated 1.2 million youths across the United States, according to the complaint. 

In May 2017, President Trump’s proposed budget for 2018 called for eliminating the TPP Program and sought $277 million to extend abstinence education in its place. In July, HHS notified the recipients of 81 TPP Program grants, including the plaintiffs, that their grants would be terminated as of June 30, 2018—a full two years before their projects were set to end. HHS neither provided an explanation for the decision to end the grants early nor did it give the plaintiffs or the other grantees any ability to challenge that decision, according to the lawsuits. 

“The Trump-Pence administration is trying to abruptly eliminate a valuable one effective program in order to impose its beliefs on everyone—ant it’s putting young people at risk,” Leslie Kantor, vice president of education at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement.

The lawsuits ask that funding for the program be reinstated to serve the approximately 1.2 million young people that would benefit. The groups are represented by lawyers at Planned Parenthood, Democracy Forward, Public Citizen, and Arnold & Porter. The suits are filed on behalf of nine plaintiffs, including Planned Parenthood affiliates, Healthy Teen Network, and Seattle’s King County Health Department.

“We support the plaintiffs’ efforts to reinstate support for grantees of the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program,” Ginny Ehrlich, CEO of Power to Decide, an advocacy organization dedicated to preventing unplanned pregnancy, said in a statement emailed to Rewire. “Doing so will ensure that an estimated 1.2 million youth will receive high quality, evidence-based sex education.”

The Trump administration has not yet responded to the lawsuit.