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Lawsuits, one filed in Spokane, challenge efforts to push abstinence-only on teens

UPDATED: Fri., June 22, 2018, 10:10 p.m.

Looking north out of the round tower room at the top of the 1891 Review Tower shows the path of Monroe Street, the Spokane Club and the federal courthouse in Spokane Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2016. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Looking north out of the round tower room at the top of the 1891 Review Tower shows the path of Monroe Street, the Spokane Club and the federal courthouse in Spokane Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2016. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Several affiliates of Planned Parenthood sued the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on Friday over its efforts to impose an abstinence-only focus on its Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program that has served more than 1 million young people.

The lawsuits were filed in federal courts in Spokane and New York City by four Planned Parenthood affiliates covering New York City and the states of Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Nebraska and Washington.

Planned Parenthood said the lawsuits are intended to protect the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program from what they termed ineffective abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula.

“Young people have the right to the information and skills they need to protect their health,” Dawn Laguens, vice president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a news release. “The Trump-Pence administration is trying to impose their abstinence-only agenda on young people across the country.”

Evidence shows such programs do not work, Laguens said.

An email sent to the Health and Human Services public relations office was not immediately answered Friday.

In previous court documents, the agency has said it has the right to change its funding priorities.

The Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program has served about 1.2 million teens in 39 states since it started in 2010. The Trump administration in April announced it would remake the program to push abstinence-only counseling.

Last year, the agency informed recipients of 81 teen pregnancy prevention grants that it would terminate their grant agreements two years early, meaning this year. That decision was made after President Trump appointed Valerie Huber as chief of staff for the Office of Assistant Secretary of Health.

After her appointment, Huber wrote an article decrying the lack of federal funding for abstinence education and questioned the effectiveness of teen pregnancy prevention grants.

In April, a federal judge in Spokane blocked the Trump administration from cutting the grants. Judges in Seattle, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., have made similar rulings.

Supporters of the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program credit it with helping to lower the teen pregnancy rate 41 percent since 2010.

Congress created the $110 million program in 2010 to support and develop evidence-based ways to reduce teen pregnancy.

The lawsuits contend that abstinence-only programs can contain false and misleading information and stigmatize teens who have sex.


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