Teen Pregnancy Prevention suit against HHS is a huge win for Baltimore City

Teen Pregnancy Prevention suit against HHS is a huge win for Baltimore City
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Last week, Judge Catherine Blake of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland ruled in Baltimore City’s favor in its Teen Pregnancy Prevention suit against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Judge Blake granted the City’s motion for summary judgment, ruling that HHS’s decision-making was arbitrary and capricious. By issuing this ruling, Judge Blake vacated HHS’s decision to prematurely terminate Baltimore’s five-year Teen Pregnancy Prevention Grant and ordered HHS to process Baltimore’s application for continued funding under the grant.

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This ruling is a victory for the youth of Baltimore City and it’s a victory for the use of science and evidence in education and health.

 

Last July, we at the Baltimore City Health Department received notice from the HHS that our five-year grant for teen pregnancy prevention would be cut to three years, at a loss of $3.5 million dollars. The cut was shocking and unprecedented. Congress appropriated the funds, which are available. There was no reason provided for prematurely ending the grant. Despite numerous phone, email and letter requests, HHS never provided us with a response.

For us in Baltimore, we didn’t see the cut as a number. We saw the faces of the  20,000 students who would be left with a critical gap in health education. We saw the faces of the hundreds of teachers who will no longer be trained to deliver evidence-based curricula.

I was deeply concerned about three major issues areas if the funding cut was permanent:

First, it would slash educational attainment and economic opportunities for our youth. Numerous studies show us that reducing teen births increases the ability of girls to graduate from high school and to have economic stability for themselves and their families.

Second, these funding cuts would actually increase cost not only for our city, but for our country as well. In 2010, teen pregnancy and childbirth accounted for nearly $10 billion in costs nationwide.

Third, cuts would adversely affect health outcomes for our most vulnerable mothers and children. Teen mothers have higher rates of giving birth to preterm, low birth-weight babies, who are more likely to have worse health outcomes. There are also health consequences to the moms themselves.

I think now not just a doctor but as a new mother. My baby is 8 months old. All of us mothers, fathers and  families want nothing more than to have a healthy child. If we have a strategy that will improve health outcomes for our women and children, then the last thing we should do is to cut funding that could hurt generations to come.

Last week’s ruling means that students in our city will continue to receive evidence-based, science-based teen pregnancy prevention education.

It means that we will continue to be able to build our capacity for teachers who are specifically trained to teach physiology, STD and HIV prevention and holistic curricula to empower teens to make the best choices for themselves.

It means that Baltimore City’s Youth Advisory Council, which is made up of teens who serve as peer health advocates, will no longer be in jeopardy. Participants in this program have given us feedback on how what they learn in this program is far more than health education. What they learned also gave them control over their lives and their futures.

It means that we will be able to continue our work in reducing teen birth rates, which fell 61 percent in Baltimore City from 2000 to 2016 — and that we will not roll back the gains that we have made.

To paraphrase Rep. Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsHouse Democrats question DHS over using facial recognition tech on US citizens House Democrats question DHS over using facial recognition tech on US citizens Democrats lash out at Trump's bombshell remarks MORE (D-Md.):We should not just look at the cost of a program, but the cost of cutting it — the cost of doing nothing when we know what works.

This ruling is ultimately about our children and their children. I hope that the value of science and evidence will continue to be recognized and I look forward to continuing to fulfill our responsibility of protecting the health and ensuring the well-being of our youth.

Leana S. Wen M.D. is the health commissioner of Baltimore City. Follow her on Twitter @DrLeanaWen.