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Lawsuit Challenges HHS Efforts to Remake the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program to Push Abstinence Only  

SEATTLE — Today, Planned Parenthood filed suit against the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) 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 evidenced-based principles and that new grantees are not forced to push dangerous abstinence only curriculum. 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 abstinence-only-until-marriage programming, which scientific research overwhelmingly has 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 removed the focus on evidenced-based programs completely, requiring instead that all participants emphasize an abstinence-only approach. By requiring grantees to meaningfully incorporate ineffective abstinence-only (which the Trump-Pence administration labels “sexual risk avoidance”) approaches into every program component, HHS is dictating a single, ineffective, and harmful approach to teen pregnancy prevention. The announcement also completely erases any mention of LGBTQ youth. Today’s lawsuit challenges both of those FOAs. 

“I have never seen the topic of sex ed as politicized as it is today,” said Willa Marth, chief learning officer at PPGNHI. “This comes at the cost of young people, who won’t have a right to comprehensive, medically accurate sex ed. 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. This administration will stop at nothing to take away our health, our rights and our freedoms. Decades of research has shown that abstinence-only-until-marriage programs do not work and put our young people at risk. We will never stop fighting to empower young people with education and information.”

Sex education is widely supported in the United States, including Washington state. In fact, more than 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 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 education ignores reality given that most people have had sex by 18 years and the median age at first marriage was 29.5 for men  and 27.4 for women. In order to escape the clear evidence abstinence doesn’t work and is harmful, extremists like Valerie Huber and other officials in the Department of Health and Human Services have taken steps to rename it Sexual Risk Avoidance.

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 FY18 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.

In April, a federal court in Spokane, Wash., ruled in favor of the health and well-being of American teens, parents, and families — stating that the Trump-Pence administration’s early termination of Planned Parenthood’s TPP program grants is unlawful. The lawsuit was filed by PPGNHI, PPH and PPGWNI.

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.