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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Planned Parenthood files suit in Spokane to stop Trump cuts to teen pregnancy prevention

Thomas S. Foley United States Courthouse (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

The local office of Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit in Spokane seeking to have a federal judge stop the Trump administration from cutting the grants that fund the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program.

The suit was filed Thursday in Spokane, but could have nationwide implications to “prevent and declare unlawful” the U.S. Health and Human Services’ “politically motivated decision” to cut $100 million in annual funding to the teen pregnancy prevention grants, the suit states.

“The city of Spokane has one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the state, putting youth at greater risk of poverty and too many are getting shame-based, outdated education that focuses on abstinence until marriage,” Rachel Todd, Planned Parenthood’s director of education, said in a news release. “We can do better.”

The suit was filed Thursday morning by the Center for Justice’s Rick Eichstaedt on behalf of Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho. It seeks to have a federal judge halt the decision by HHS Secretary Alex Azar to cut grant funding to the pregnancy prevention program.

The suit, which was joined by several other Planned Parenthood affiliates in Alaska, Hawaii, Iowa, North Carolina, South Carolina, Louisiana, Texas and Nebraska, noted that since its inception in 2010 through 2016, the teen birth rate in the United States has dropped by 41 percent.

“We’re the nation’s largest and most trusted provider of sex education,” Todd said. “Sex education that’s evidence-based and delivered by trained professionals is extremely effective and widely supported in our community.”

The suit alleges that the decision to cut funding to the program will eliminate evaluations that have been underway for two years.

In its first four years, the program served about 500,000 teens. Those numbers have grown to 1.2 million youths in 39 states and the Marshall Islands during the current five-year project period, according to the lawsuit. According to the suit, the grants provide services to about 40,000 youths in Washington and Idaho.

Terminating the program “is likely to harm some of the country’s most vulnerable youth by denying them high-quality information and education that will help them make healthy decisions about their futures,” the suit states.

A spokesman for HHS told the Associated Press on Thursday that the agency cannot comment on pending litigation.

The federal agency in July informed recipients of 81 teen pregnancy prevention grants that it would be terminating their grant agreements two years early.

Ending the grants early “is part and parcel of the Trump-Pence Administration’s broader political agenda against sexual and reproductive health and evidence-based and science-based programs,” the suit states.

The suit says the administration under President Donald Trump “has demonstrated an aversion to evidence and science.” Trump’s proposed budget for 2018 called for eliminating the teen pregnancy prevention program and sought $277 million for “extending abstinence education,” according to the suit.

“Generally, abstinence education programs teach that abstinence from sexual activity is the only way to avoid out-of-wedlock pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and other associated health problems,” the suit states.

Last June, Trump appointed Valerie Huber as chief of staff for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Health. Prior to the appointment, Huber served as the abstinence coordinator for Ohio’s Department of Health from 2004 to 2007.

After leaving that position, Huber formed the National Abstinence Educators Association, which is a lobbying arm of the abstinence education industry, and has attempted to rebrand abstinence education as “sexual risk avoidance,” according to the suit.

Following her appointment to HHS last year, Huber wrote an opinion piece decrying the lack of federal funding for abstinence education and questioned the effectiveness of the teen pregnancy prevention grants as “so-called comprehensive sex education.” She claimed the program “normalizes teen sex.”

A month after her appointment to HHS, according to the suit, the federal agency discontinued the teen pregnancy prevention grants.

In late November, Health and Human Services officials responded to inquiries by several members of Congress by repeating their conclusions that the TPP program had “failed to deliver” on its promises and jeopardized “the youth who were served,” and that the grants were “a poor use” of taxpayer dollars, the suit states.

The suit is asking a federal judge to issue a permanent injunction that would prevent HHS officials from terminating the local agreements or the “TPP Program as a whole except as allowed by federal law and consistent with due process.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.