Lawsuit Challenges HHS Efforts to Remake the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program to Push Abstinence Only
Washington DC — Today, Planned Parenthood affiliates filed suit against the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), HHS Secretary Alex Azar, and Valerie Huber, Senior Policy Advisor in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Health, challenging the administration’s efforts to impose their abstinence-only-until-marriage (AOUM) agenda on the 1.2 million young people who are set to benefit from the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program (TPP program). The lawsuit seeks to protect the future of the TPP program. If successful, the lawsuit will ensure that the TPP program maintains its evidence-based principles and that new grantees are not forced to push dangerous AOUM curriculums. The cases were filed in United States District Court in Spokane, Washington and New York City, New York. Planned Parenthood of New York City (PPNYC), Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands (PPGNHI), Planned Parenthood of the Heartland (PPH), and Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho (PPGWNI) are represented in court by lawyers from Arnold & Porter and Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
In April, the Trump-Pence administration announced that it would radically remake the effective TPP program to push AOUM programming, which scientific research has overwhelmingly confirmed is ineffective and can contain false and misleading information. The announcement, made through two newly released funding opportunity announcements (FOAs), clearly lays out an agenda that stigmatizes teens who have had sex and stacks the deck against young people by promoting abstinence-only programs rather than a wide range of programs that are proven to help young people stay healthy. With the new FOAs, HHS has removed the focus on evidence-based programs completely, requiring instead that all participants emphasize an abstinence-only approach. By requiring grantees to substantially incorporate ineffective abstinence-only approaches (which the Trump-Pence administration has tried to rebrand as “sexual risk avoidance”) into every program component, HHS is dictating a single, ineffective, and harmful approach to teen pregnancy prevention. To make matters worse, the announcement also completely erases any mention of LGBTQ youth. Today’s lawsuit challenges both of those FOAs.
Statement from Dawn Laguens, Executive Vice President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America:
Young people have the right to the information and skills they need to protect their health. Planned Parenthood is in court fighting for young people’s ability to have the information, education, and resources to plan their futures and take care of themselves. The Trump-Pence administration is trying to impose their abstinence-only agenda on young people across the country at the expense of young people’s health. All of the evidence shows that abstinence-only-until-marriage programs do not work and put our young people at risk. As a result of the administration’s action, young people will not have access to the information they need to take care of their health. We will always fight to empower young people with education and full, accurate information.
Sex education is widely supported in the United States. In fact, over 90 percent of parents support sex education in both middle and high school. And the vast majority of parents, including Democrats and Republicans, want this education to include topics like birth control, healthy relationships, abstinence, and sexual orientation. Abstinence-only programs are not only unpopular, but they are also the same harmful programs that often blame survivors for their own sexual assaults, peddle fear, and ignore the needs of LGBTQ teens. Abstinence-only-until-marriage programs ignore reality, given that most people have had sex by the time they’re 18 and that the median age for first marriage was 29.5 for men and 27.4 for women. In order to escape the clear evidence that abstinence-only programs don’t work and are harmful, ideologues like Valerie Huber and other backwards officials in the Department of Health and Human Services have taken steps to rename it sexual risk avoidance.
Here is just a sample of the language employed by “sexual risk avoidance” programs:
- “Sex is like fire. Inside the appropriate boundaries of marriage, sex can be a great thing! Outside of marriage, sex can be dangerous!” (Heritage Keepers, Abstinence Education I)
- “[A sexually active teen] may turn inward, fail to develop healthy interests and relationships, fail to develop a personal, independent identity, experience feelings of betrayal that can lead to rage.” (Choosing the Best Life (Upper Middle School-8th Grade) Leader Guide)
- “How do some people say NO with their words, but YES with their actions and clothing?” (Choosing the Best Way (Lower Middle School- 6th Grade) Leader Guide)
Since 2010, the TPP program has provided young people with education about sexual health, communication skills, and relationships so they have the tools to make healthy, informed decisions. Congress funded the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program for the current fiscal year with bipartisan support, despite the administration's efforts to abruptly and arbitrarily end the TPP program grant agreements last year. By introducing the FOAs that this suit challenges, the Trump-Pence administration is trying to ignore science and the needs of young people, all to push its coercive and ideological agenda.
The Trump-Pence administration has pushed its abstinence-only-until-marriage agenda by:
- Giving Valerie Huber, who most recently served as president and CEO of Ascend, formerly called “National Abstinence Education Association,” power over the TPP program and Title X, the nation’s program for affordable birth control and reproductive health care.
- Then, replacing Huber with Diane Foley, who has equated sex education with sexual harassment and has promoted abstinence-only programs that claim: “that their (students’) brain chemistry makes them like duct tape; if they have sex with too many people, they could wind up having trouble ‘sticking’ to their spouses.”
- Presenting an extreme agenda to the the annual UN Commission on the Status of Women on abortion, contraception, and sexual education. The U.S.’s anti-women’s health agenda was so extreme that it was “further to the right than those expressed by most other countries present, including Russia and the representative for the Arab states.”
- Favoring health care providers that push patients to return to a “sexually risk free status” and promoting abstinence only until marriage in the Title X FOA that was released in February.
- Abruptly ending prior grants for TPP program, which numerous courts uniformly found was unlawful.
- Outlining priorities in the TPP program funding announcement that require program participants to emphasize priorities that that emphasize “sexual risk avoidance” (also known as abstinence only until marriage) and “cessation support” for adolescents who are sexually active.
As the nation’s largest provider of sex education, Planned Parenthood works in schools and communities across the country to provide quality programs. Planned Parenthood is proud to provide sex education and health services that help teens plan their future and prevent unintended pregnancies and STDs. We work every day to reach teens with education about sexual health, communication skills, and relationships so they can make healthy decisions.
Planned Parenthood is the nation’s leading provider and advocate of high-quality, affordable health care for women, men, and young people, as well as the nation’s largest provider of sex education. With more than 600 health centers across the country, Planned Parenthood organizations serve all patients with care and compassion, with respect and without judgment. Through health centers, programs in schools and communities, and online resources, Planned Parenthood is a trusted source of reliable health information that allows people to make informed health decisions. We do all this because we care passionately about helping people lead healthier lives.