Dems blast HHS for cutting teen pregnancy program

Dems blast HHS for cutting teen pregnancy program
© Keren Carrion

House Democrats are up in arms over the Trump administration’s move to slash teen pregnancy programs, pressing officials to justify the decision.

In a letter to Health and Human Services secretary Tom Price, 148 Democrats on Tuesday warned of a harmful “ripple effect across communities” if the administration axes HHS’s Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program (TPPP), an Obama-era initiative intended to curb unintended teen pregnancies.

The grants provided under the TPPP were slated to extend for five years, but in a quiet move earlier this month the Trump administration trimmed two years off of that window.

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“The negative impacts of this unnecessary decision cannot be overstated,” the Democrats wrote. “At a time when young people are most in need of information and education to protect their sexual and reproductive health, this Administration is denying evidence and science.  

“Young people deserve better."

The Democrats, led by Reps. Barbara Lee (Calif.), Michelle Lujan Grisham (N.M.), Ted Deutch (Fla.) and Lloyd Doggett (Texas), want Price to reveal who in the administration dictated the cut and whether officials weighed “the burden and adverse impacts” on both the teenagers receiving TPPP services and the health professionals providing them. The economic effect on local communities, the lawmakers suggested, should not be ignored.

“In addition to hurting the young people currently participating in TPPP-supported programs and the 600,000 young people who would have been served through the remaining years of the projects, this decision will mean fewer jobs, fewer trained professional, and reduced partnerships in communities all across the country,” the lawmakers wrote.

Adopted by Congress in 2010, the TPPP grants millions of dollars to local governments, universities, nonprofit organizations and other groups that provide education and other “evidence-based” services designed to rein in teen pregnancies. More than 80 groups currently receive funding, according to HHS — a list as diverse as Oklahoma’s Choctaw Nation, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee, Hawaii’s chapter of Planned Parenthood and the University of Texas. 

The grants, initiated in 2015, were intended to run until the middle of 2020, but recipients this month got notice that the window will close on June 30, 2018. The news was first reported by The Center for Investigative Reporting. 

The TPPP cut arrives as teenage pregnancy in the United States is at a record low. Reproductive health experts have attributed the decline in large part to the heightened education of today’s teens and the greater availability of better birth-control regimens.

The Democrats are quick to note that Congress included TPPP funding in the 2017 omnibus bill, enacted in May, and they’re wondering what will happen to those programs if lawmakers extend similar funding in the 2018 appropriations process.

“Will current TPPP grantees be allowed to continue their projects and if not, what does HHS plan to do with FY 2018 funding?” they asked.

Price, a former House member from Georgia, is an orthopedic surgeon with a long track record opposing abortion, Planned Parenthood and federal initiatives to expand access to contraception. As a congressman, he opposed bills requiring insurers to cover contraception, saying they trampled on the religious liberty of those companies.  

And as HHS secretary, he’s vowed to “re-examine” ObamaCare’s birth-control mandate, which requires insurers to cover contraceptives without cost to the patient. 

"We will be taking action in short order to follow the president's instructions to safeguard the deeply held religious beliefs of Americans who provide health insurance to their employees," Price said in May. 

An executive guideline carving out exemptions for employers that object to the mandate on moral or religious grounds is currently moving its way through the rulemaking process.