The Los Angeles teen pregnancy prevention program for which Larissa Karan teaches received $2 million in federal health funds in 2017 but will lose its $4 million in funding for the next two years. Credit: Keeping It Real Together

Two more federal judges have ordered the Trump administration to restore funding for teen pregnancy prevention programs that were abruptly eliminated.

U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake ruled Wednesday that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ decision was “arbitrary and capricious” when it axed $5 million in funding for the city of Baltimore and the Baltimore nonprofit Healthy Teen Network.

Another federal judge issued a similar order last week, ruling that the Department of Health and Human Services unlawfully cut the funding of four other programs. And on Tuesday, a judge ordered the department to restore the funding of three Planned Parenthood teen pregnancy programs that had filed suit.

In July, Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting reported that after the high-level appointment of Valerie Huber, an abstinence-only advocate, the administration axed $213.6 million nationwide for the last two years of five-year grants.

The Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program grants had been awarded to 81 institutions and groups that target many high-risk teens. Some 1.2 million teenagers in 39 states received education and services, mainly through public schools.

In her ruling, Blake wrote, “HHS may have had a sufficient, lawful reason, for terminating the plaintiffs’ project period early, but because it failed to provide a reason in this case, or to meaningfully explain the factors it considered relevant to its decision, it is impossible to determine what was motivating the agency and whether that motivation was relevant at all. HHS’s decision was, therefore, arbitrary and capricious.”

Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen said the judge’s decision means that “we will be able to continue our work in reducing teen birth rates, which fell 61 percent in Baltimore City from 2000 to 2016.” She said the grants ensure teens receive “evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention education delivered by teachers specially trained.”

The Department of Health and Human Services expressed disappointment in the rulings and countered that the programs are not successful in reducing teen pregnancies.

“Continuing the program in its current state does a disservice to the youth it serves and to the taxpayers who fund it,” the department said in a statement. “Communities deserve better, and we are considering our next steps.”

Federal health officials have declined to say whether the funds would be restored to only the nine plaintiffs or whether it would restore all 81 grant holders.

On Friday, the department announced a new set of grants meant to replace the ones it had tried to eliminate. These grants will focus on programs stressing abstinence-only, with no specific requirements for providing evidence that the programs work.

Jane Kay can be reached at JaneKayEnvironment@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter: @JaneKayNature.

Jane Kay is a career journalist specializing in enterprise and investigative science and environment stories, most recently contributing to National Geographic, Environmental Health News and Scientific American. As one of the country’s early newspaper environmental beat reporters, she worked at the San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Examiner and Arizona Daily Star in Tucson. She taught environmental reporting at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism for nine years, and then directed its environmental journalism program for four years. She also taught feature writing at the University of Arizona School of Journalism from which she graduated. Kay has reported extensively on global warming, toxics in the environment and consumer products and the health of wildlife and ecosystems. Her stories have taken her to the Arctic, Alaska's Prince William Sound and Bristol Bay, the Amazon, Navajo lands, the U.S.-Mexico border, Baja California and the Gulf of Mexico. She has won national awards, including the Sigma Delta Chi Public Service Award, the National Press Club's Robert L. Kozik Award for environmental reporting and twice Scripps Howard Foundation's Edward J. Meeman Award. In 2007, she won the Society of Environmental Journalists' prize for best beat reporting. Kay can be reached at JaneKayEnvironment@gmail.com
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