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Trump Administration Defund Teen Pregnancy Programs

  • Kristina Evans
  • Jul 19, 2017 12:36PM

The Trump administration has cut $213.6 million in teen pregnancy prevention programs and research at 81 institutions around the country. The decision by the US Department of Health and Human Services will end five-year grants awarded by the Obama administration that were designed to find scientifically valid ways to help adolescents make healthy, informed decisions and avoid unwanted pregnancies.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and other top Trump administration opponents of federal funding for birth control, are advocating abstinence rather than in-depth sexual education, including contraceptives to control teen pregnancies and avoiding sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Research from the Center for Investigative Reporting, courtesy of the website Reveal News, offers a glimpse into the programs being eliminated:

  • The Choctaw Nation’s efforts to combat teen pregnancy in Oklahoma
  • John Hopkins’ work with adolescent Apaches in Arizona
  • University of Texas’ guidance for youth in foster care
  • Chicago Department of Public Health’s counseling and affordable STI testing
  • University of California’s workshops for teaching parents how to talk to middle school kids about delaying sexual activity

Also on the chopping block was the $2.9 million annual grant split among Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles, the University of Michigan, the University of Massachusetts Donahue Institute, Engender Health in New York and Youth Catalytics in Vermont. These five groups were responsible for providing resources, such as training and communication, to other grant holders. They also received letters without prior notice, stating that the cuts were due to “changing program priorities” and that the projects were no longer in the federal government’s best interest.

The elimination of two years of funding for the five-year projects shocked many of the professors and community health officials involved. As NPR reports, many of these officials simply received letters in the mail, which contained the usual bureaucratic information that buried one key sentence towards the end: “This award also shortens the project period to end June 30, 2018, at the end of this budget year.” In previous letters, that line read that the project would end June 30, 2020.

“We are just reeling. We’re not sure how we’ll adapt,” said Jennifer Hettema, an associate research professor at the University of Mexico Health Sciences Centre. She was involved in their program for finding the best ways to help doctors talk to Native American and Latino teens about avoiding pregnancy. According to some research, both groups have higher teen birth rates than non-Hispanic white teens- more than two times higher for Hispanic teens, and more than one and a half times higher for American Indian/Alaska Native teens. “There are thousands of healthcare providers in this country who are winging it in terms of how to talk to teens about unintended pregnancies,” Hettema said.

And she seems to be right. More than 25% of US girls become pregnant by age 20. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)- after the Obama administration’s grants were awarded- the country's teen birth rate dropped 8% in 2015 to hit a record low of 22.3 births per 1,000 women aged 15 to 19. Although the teen birth rate has continually declined over the last two decades, our teen pregnancy rate is embarrassingly high compared with other industrialized nations- particularly among poor and minority girls.

“[T]he US teen pregnancy rate is substantially higher than in other western industrialized nations,” the CDC website notes- meaning there is still room for improvement. The CDC says “evidence suggests” the decline is due in part to more sexually active teens using birth control and making informed decisions before becoming sexually active in the first place (as sexual activity has remained constant over the years).

Or, you know, the whole point of all that funding is actually working. 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 it works.”