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.”
Health officials say cutting off money midway through the five-year research projects is highly unusual and wasteful because it means there will be no scientifically valid findings. Researchers no longer have the funds to properly analyze the data they have been collecting, or any way for them to devote the proper time to present and incorporate their findings into usable plans and assistance for youth.
This funding elimination was done outside the traditional federal budget process. Congress has begun negotiations on the spending bill, and last week an appropriations subcommittee cut money for teen pregnancy prevention. Several grantees were told by the Department of Health and Human Services that the decision to eliminate funding came from the office of the assistant secretary for health. Last month, President Donald Trump appointed Valerie Huber as the new chief of staff for the department. Surprise surprise, Huber favors abstinence as the only solution to teen pregnancy. In a 2014 paper on the history of sex education, Huber criticized 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. “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.”
Guess why, Huber? Because there shouldn’t fucking be growth in abstinence-only education. Abstinence education is a one-trick pony that doesn’t work. In fact, abstinence is the least effective sex-ed system. Telling teenagers not to have sex does absolutely nothing. And if you offer zero alternatives, then youth are just going to explore on their own. Or with the internet, which is an entirely different and arguably more dangerous game. It’s just infuriating. I couldn’t agree with US News’s position more: “What in the name of health care is wrong with birth control?” The Trump administration’s position on abortion is harmful to women, but at least that one is clear. Why are Trump and his Congress friends so determined to slash birth control coverage? Look, I get that Republicans have this weird obsessive fight against abortion, but that’s a completely different issue. None of the funded programs provided abortion counseling; they were exclusively involved in preventing youth pregnancies. But combine Huber’s idiocy with Tom Price’s ignorance, and here we are.
Price, an orthopedic surgeon confirmed by Congress as health secretary, is vehemently opposed to federal programs involving contraception. He voted to eliminate Title X, which subsidizes contraception for low-income women. He also opposed an Affordable Care Act provision that requires insurance plans to cover birth control options.
“Bring me one woman who has been left behind. Bring me one. There’s not one,” Price told a 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.”
And we’re back to this religious ridiculousness. I just don’t get it. Hey, being raised in a strict Christian household, I already know all the anti-abortion arguments- and not one of them is based on science. I grew the fuck up when confronted with facts. If you want to curb and eliminate abortions, denying access to contraception does nothing but lead to more unintended pregnancies and guess what? An increase in terminated pregnancies. If Trump and his Congress cronies eliminate funding for Title X and comprehensive sex-ed programs, the number of abortions will increase by nearly 280,000 a year according to the Guttmacher Institute. Cutting off funding for international assistance, and the number of induced abortions increase by 2.3 million. In addition, Guttmacher estimates that 11,000 women in developing countries would die from unsafe abortions. Remind me again how that’s pro-life?
We need to stop the discussion on sex education and reproductive health issues as moral issues. They’re not. They’re a matter of public health, no matter how much you want to quote bible verses at me. So to these insane politicians like Huber and Price- just stop. The repercussions of eliminating contraceptive access and sexual education is a startling and scary thought that will negatively affect people’s lives. You know, the people you’re supposed to be protecting and representing in our government. Stop making speeches and political decisions based on your outdated religious rhetoric and start actually helping the future generations of this country.