WASHINGTON — As lawmakers hammer out a 2018 federal budget, women’s health and family planning is proving to be a contentious issue, but the fight is not limited to Capitol Hill.
Last month, Planned Parenthood and several local governments and allied health care advocacy organizations filed four lawsuits in federal court over the canceling of some $220 million in grants for the national teen pregnancy prevention program.
“The Trump-Pence administration is trying to abruptly eliminate a valuable and effective program in order to impose its beliefs on everyone—and it’s putting young people at risk,” said Leslie Kantor, an official with Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
The lawsuits were filed in the U.S. District Court in Maryland, the Eastern District of Washington and the District of Columbia.
Congress first created the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program in 2010 to experiment with various approaches to lowering teen pregnancy rates and support at-risk youths.
The grants, which are meant to inform research into the problem, were supposed to last five years. But five months after President Trump took office last January, grantees received letters from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services saying the program would be discontinued at the end of June this year.
“There was no formal notice,” said Patty Hayes, Director of Public Health in Seattle and King County in Washington. “It was so dramatically different than we’ve ever seen HHS behave.”
While HHS did not initially give reasoning for the removal of the grants, in August they released a report claiming that the program was not working.
“Given the strong evidence of negative impact or no impact for these programs, continuing the TPP Program in its current state is not a reasonable option,” the report said.
Congress is expected to unveil an omnibus-spending bill next week, since they’re facing a deadline of March 23 to keep the government open. Advocates for TPP hope that lawmakers will include funding for the grants as part of the bill.
But conservative lawmakers are dead set against funding Planned Parenthood, TPP and other family planning programs.
Democrats say an agreement was almost reached on funding levels for the fiscal 2018 Labor-health and Human Services funding measure, until lawmakers met to finalize the numbers and found that Republicans had backtracked on their promises to fund women’s health initiatives. Montana Sen. Roy Blunt, a Republican said he hoped to block such funding, though he acknowledged that such a move may not prove political feasible.
“These cuts will negatively affect the lives of young people currently participating in the programs, will result in job losses for trained professionals, and reduce effective community partnerships,” said the Big Cities Health Coalition, which includes several large city health departments.
The birth rate among teen girls has dropped 67 percent since 1991, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. In 2016, the teen birth rate dropped 9 percent compared to the previous year.
But the Trump administration says cutting the TPP program won’t reverse this progress. “The TPP Program cannot be the reason for the drop in teen birth rates,” the HHS report states. “Even if the program were proven effective, at least 99 percent of the teen population is not served by the TPP Program.”
There are currently 81 programs on the chopping block spanning over 30 states.
Among the groups that sued are affiliates of Planned Parenthood, Washington’s King County, which includes Seattle and its suburbs and Baltimore-based Healthy Teen Network.