WASHINGTON — Teen pregnancy prevention programs that advocate the use of contraceptives have been notified by the Trump administration their federal funding will be cut by more than $200 million annually.
Ascend, formerly the National Abstinence Education Association, lauded the cuts as appropriate given the “controversial and explicit” nature of some sex education programs used in public schools.
“The cuts signal a concern over programs that many parents and school administrators have found to be controversial and explicit,” said Mary Anne Mosack, Ascend’s executive director. “These programs were held up as model programs for the country, but we found that in many regards they did not have the required body of research behind them to be considered model programs. It’s not surprising to me that these cuts have taken place.”
The cuts, announced this month, will not take full effect until next year, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“On July 1, HHS awarded 81 continuations for Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program grant awards,” said an HHS spokesperson. “All of these grantees were given a project end date of June 30, 2018. The President’s [Fiscal Year] 2018 Budget eliminated funding for the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program, so our grants office informed the grantees of their June 30, 2018, end date, to give them an opportunity to adjust their programs and plan for an orderly closeout.”
The Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program is an “evidence-based program that funds diverse organizations working to prevent teen pregnancy across the United States,” according to the HHS website. At least some program initiatives seek to increase the frequency with which teens use contraception during sexual activity, the website stated.
Despite being the recipient of more than 90 percent of federal sex education funding, the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program has not drastically decreased teen pregnancy, according to a report released by the American Journal of Public Health. Some 80 percent of the time, participants in the program fared no better or worse than other teens in terms of preventing pregnancy, the report stated.
Teen pregnancy has declined steadily over the past 20 years, according to HHS, but America still has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates among developed countries.
Valerie Huber, chief of staff at HHS’s Office of Adolescent Health, is the former president and CEO of Ascend and was a chief proponent of the HHS cuts, according to the Center for Investigative Reporting.
In an October op-ed for the Daily Caller, Huber highlighted the importance of teen sexual abstinence.
“The healthiest message for youth is one that gives youth the skills and information to avoid the risks of teen sex, not merely reduce them,” Huber wrote. “This is the kind of message we give to youth when we encourage them not to smoke, to exercise more, and to avoid underage drinking.”
Opponents of the HHS cuts say a lack of federal funding for contraceptive-based programs will increase the teen pregnancy rate. Kelly Wilson, a health and kinesiology professor at Texas A&M University and lead researcher for its Innovative Teen Pregnancy Prevention Programs project, told NPR the cuts will “impact teens across the nation.”
“I think that this entire cut to eliminate the evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention programs, to eliminate Title X Family Planning Programs definitely shows that there is a change in the atmosphere at multiple levels,” Wilson said. “We absolutely need these kind of programs [and] there are still different populations that have high teen birthrates that need to be impacted. Hispanic girls are still more likely to experience teen birth compared to their white counterparts.”
Ascend will continue to advocate increased funding of sexual risk avoidance programs, which encourage teens to delay sexual activity, said Mosak.
“We certify over 1,000 different sexual risk avoidance educators across the country,” Mosak said. “We want to continue to empower educators to understand what the sexual risk avoidance message is and to give them the skills and the research they need to effectively teach in the classroom. The ultimate goal is to get the message of avoiding sex to the student at the granular level.”
— Daniel Woodman | BP