Teen Pregnancy Prevention Gravely Threatened by Trump Administration
Teen pregnancy rates have been dropping nationally, and Massachusetts has consistently had one of the lowest teen pregnancy rates in the United States. The steady decline in rates of teen pregnancy can be attributed to sexual education classes, as well as community based programs that help young people learn how to connect with resources in their communities, make health decisions, and access to health clinics and contraceptive services. However, the progress the country has made to reduce rates of teen pregnancy has been gravely threatened by the Trump administration.
Last week when the world was occupied with news about collusion between Russia and the Trump Campaign, President Trump’s administration quietly cut $213.6 million in programs to prevent teen pregnancy. In 2015, the Obama administration renewed funding for the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program (TPP) offered through the Office of Adolescent Health (OAH). The Massachusetts Alliance on Teen Pregnancy (MATP) received a five year grant from the OAH in 2015 that has allowed us to fund programs critical to reducing teen pregnancy in Massachusetts. Unfortunately, last week we were abruptly notified that our TPP grant had been cut to three years by the Trump administration and will end on June 30, 2018.
This cut will impact those most in need.
The Massachusetts Alliance on Teen Pregnancy works to educate and motivate federal, state, and local policymakers along with the public to develop responsible public policies and programs that educate young adults about reproductive health so that they can make their own best decisions about their relationships, sex, parenting, and life. We at MATP recognize that teen pregnancy and young parenthood is a complex issue that is often driven by social inequalities, such as racial disparities, low educational attainment, high poverty, and high unemployment.
While overall the rate of teen pregnancy in Massachusetts has steadily declined, teen pregnancy rates are dramatically higher among Hispanic and black teenagers than among white and Asian populations. The teen pregnancy rate among Hispanic teenagers in 2015 was 32.7, and 14.4 for black teenagers. These rates are a stark contrast from the 4.5 percent rate among white teenagers and the 3 percent rate among Asians in 2015. In 2015, the highest number of teen births were in Lawrence, Lynn, Springfield, Worcester, and Boston — traditionally impoverished and underprivileged communities.
MATP’s Partners for Lawrence Youth Program (PLY) has worked to help alleviate some of the factors causing higher teen pregnancy among minorities in underprivileged areas by creating a collaborative, community-based program that uses a comprehensive approach to prevent teenage pregnancy and promote sexual and reproductive health among Lawrence youth.
Partners for Youth Lawrence (PLY) is funded by TPP, and will now come to an end June 30th, 2018. PLY is a critical program that provides essential preventive reproductive, sexual health services to a community that faces racial disparities, low educational attainment, high poverty, and high unemployment.
A return to abstinence-only sex-ed.
Teen pregnancy rates have declined nationally because of access to affordable contraceptive services mandated through the Affordable Care Act, and because of comprehensive sexual education services, such as PLY, that are funded through TPP. It is mystifying that the federal government would want to cut funding to services that have produced real results in the fight to combat teen pregnancy. As our partners at SIECUS have stated:
“This is not normal. To many collective, institutional-memory brains, an en masse shortening of a project period without cause or funding cut — Congress hasn’t determined FY 2018 funding yet and in fact is just starting it’s process this week — is unprecedented. We believe this signals that HHS policy leadership is banking on TPP funding being eliminated, or if not eliminated, planning on reissuing new Funding Opportunity Announcements to direct the TPP funding toward ‘sexual risk avoidance education’ (abstinence-only-until-marriage programs) grantees.”
Even more troubling, the Trump administration has not been transparent about where the money used for TPP funding will go. Unfortunately, much of the funding provided to programs that have had actual success at preventing teen pregnancy will most likely be reallocated to “Sexual Risk Avoidance” Programs. “Sexual risk avoidance” is a fancy, re-branded name for “abstinence-only” education. And as a study of teen pregnancy rates in Texas has shown, abstinence-only sex-ed does not work to reduce rates, and may even increase rates of teen pregnancy.
Teen pregnancy rates have declined largely due to access to affordable birth control provided under the ACA.
While the Trump administration gutted the Teen Pregnancy Prevention fund, Republicans in Congress have simultaneously been working to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that would prevent millions of women from being able to access affordable birth control. Without TPP or the ACA teen pregnancy rates will again increase.
What you can do in Massachusetts:
With national teen pregnancy prevention funding cut, and the repeal of the ACA on the horizon, it is important to support legislation in Massachusetts that will continue to help prevent teen pregnancy. Two important pieces of legislation are the Healthy Youth Act and the ACCESS bill.
An Act Relative to Healthy Youth will ensure that Massachusetts public schools that elect to teach sex-ed will use a curriculum that is medically accurate, age appropriate, and truly inclusive and comprehensive. This act will guarantee that Massachusetts youth will be getting the education they need to make healthy decisions.
An Act Relative to Advancing Contraception Coverage and Economic Security in our State (ACCESS) will work to protect the current reproductive healthcare threats by the federal government, and will eliminate co-pays and out-of-pocket expenses for preventative care. It will ensure that birth control remains affordable so that every person can choose the birth control method that works best for their lives.
While Massachusetts is lucky to have low rates of teen pregnancy and progressive legislation making its way through our state government, we must fight to protect the Teen Pregnancy Prevention fund so that we can continue to work with populations still disproportionately impacted by high teen pregnancy rates. MATP needs TPP to fund our Partners for Lawrence Youth program. And unfortunately, a total of 81 national programs to prevent teen pregnancy have been cut. With TPP axed and a resurgence in abstinence-only sex-ed we will see a dramatic rise in rates of teen pregnancy throughout the United States.
If you believe that these actions by the federal government will have disastrous consequences for today’s youth you can take action by doing the following:
Call or email your Representative and ask them to protect the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program. We are asking that you pay particular attention to Rep. Katherine Clark who is on the Appropriations Committee.
You can also call or email your local representatives to express your support for the Healthy Youth Act and the ACCESS bill.
About the author:
Indira Rao is the Public Policy Intern at the Massachusetts Alliance on Teen Pregnancy. She is currently a rising senior at the University of Massachusetts — Amherst, where she is pursuing a social justice education while working towards a BA in History and a certificate in Civil Engagement and Public Service.