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

A coalition of Planned Parenthood groups, youth organizations and a local government in Washington state sued the Trump administration today, alleging that pulling the plug on the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program violated federal law.

Last summer, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services suddenly cut off $213.6 million in federal funds for about 80 institutions that were developing scientifically valid ways to prevent teenage pregnancy. The programs, including ones at Johns Hopkins University, Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles and the Chicago Department of Public Health, were designed to reach 1.2 million teens in 39 states.

The surprise decision to eliminate the programs two years into their five-year federal grants was first reported by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting.

In President Donald Trump’s 2019 budget proposal unveiled Monday, the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program would be replaced with abstinence-only-until-marriage programs.

The four lawsuits, filed in federal courts by eight nonprofit groups and Washington’s King County, assert multiple violations of the Administrative Procedure Act, including that the funding cuts didn’t comply with Department of Health and Human Services contracting regulations. The nine plaintiffs were grant recipients that had lost their funding.

The department “is attempting to unlawfully terminate these grants, two years early, based on an ideologically driven crusade to eliminate a successful congressionally mandated program that has broad bipartisan support,” lead attorney Sean Sherman, who works for the Public Citizen Litigation Group, said in a statement. “The termination of these grants in the middle of their five-year programs violates the Administrative Procedure Act and will cause substantial unnecessary harm to the communities these organizations serve.”

Among the programs eliminated were grants to schools in West Virginia to prevent pregnancy, to schools in Miami to teach sex education, to the University of Southern California and Los Angeles Public Health Department to support classes in public and charter schools and to a Baltimore youth group that provided reproductive health information to young Latinas and African Americans.

Overall, nearly 230,000 babies were born to U.S. teens in 2015. Over the past 10 years, the adolescent birth rate dropped by half.

We have experienced incredible positive outcomes, thanks to proven-effective programs and services,” Pat Paluzzi, president and CEO of the Healthy Teen Network in Baltimore, said in statement. “Science and research – not radical ideology – must guide the funding of programs and services.”

Health and human services officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Top Trump appointees in the agency have been outspoken opponents of federal funding for comprehensive sex education, advocating abstinence rather than contraceptives to reduce teen pregnancies. Research, however, has shown that abstinence-only programs are ineffective.

In November, one of the advocacy groups, the Democracy Forward Foundation, filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, seeking documents on political involvement that may have led to the termination of the grants.

Twenty-seven senators sent a letter to the agency’s acting secretary, Eric Hargan, in November objecting to the move toward spending money on abstinence-only programs, called “sexual risk avoidance.” The senators called it “an attempt to promote a single ideological approach that betrays the congressional intent” of the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program, which encompasses a wide range of strategies to reach adolescents based on evidence of what works.

Among the groups that sued the agency in separate lawsuits are Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho, Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, the South Carolina Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, Sexual Health Initiatives for Teens North Carolina, the Project Vida Health Center in Texas and the Policy & Research Group in New Orleans.

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
.