- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 15, 2018

Local governments and health care groups sued the Trump administration on Thursday for cutting short a grant program designed to prevent teen pregnancies through 2020.

The Health and Human Services Department last year announced the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program would end in 2018 instead, outraging 81 recipients and sparking the new lawsuits from nine of them.

“The Trump administration is attempting to unlawfully terminate a successful program to reduce teen pregnancy based on an ideologically driven crusade,” said Sean Sherman, an attorney for Public Citizen, a nonprofit that is representing four of the grantees in a complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Five other grantees sued in three separate lawsuits filed in Washington State and Maryland.

Besides Public Citizen, the plaintiffs are represented by Planned Parenthood, Democracy Forward, Public Citizen and Arnold & Porter.

The TPPP program, started in 2010 under President Barack Obama, costs about $100 million per year and reaches roughly 1 million adolescents in about 40 states and territories. A second round of grants began in 2015.

In August, the Trump administration said it was cutting short the program, angering big-city health department chiefs who said they will no longer be able to figure out what’s working to cut pregnancy rates.

HHS said it was looking to do belt-tightening, and program was a logical target after a “rigorous evaluation” of the first round of funding found most of the programs showed either no effects, or appeared to make things worse.

TPPP supporters, though, say changing behavior is difficult and scoring a nearly 30-percent success rate is actually quite good.

They said the grants help them test out what works and what doesn’t.

The lawsuits say HHS’s decision was “arbitrary and capricious” and ran afoul of the Administrative Procedure Act, even as Congress continued to fund the program as part of stopgap spending bills.

Grantees say the cuts will cause real harm — equating to $200 million over the final two years of the program — and are based on ideology instead of science.

“Shortly after the election of President Trump in November 2016, advocates for abstinence-only education to prevent teen pregnancy expressed their hope that the new administration would focus exclusively on abstinence-only education, as opposed to the TPPP’s evidence-based programs with diverse methodologies,” the complaint filed in D.C. said.

For its part, HHS said it does not comment on pending litigation.

Grant recipients who are suing span the country, from King County Health Department in Seattle to the Healthy Teen Network in Baltimore.

Some of the grantees focus on vulnerable groups, the lawsuits said. They include one in El Paso, Texas, that works with rural, Hispanic populations with high birth rates and another — in South Carolina — that assists youth in juvenile justice or foster care programs.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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