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Planned Parenthood sues HHS over changes to teen pregnancy program

Planned Parenthood is suing the Department of Health and Human Services over changes to the agency's embattled Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program.

Planned Parenthood is suing the Department of Health and Human Services over changes to the agency’s embattled Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program.

The organization claims that the Trump administration made unlawful changes to the program’s funding guidance in order to emphasize “abstinence-only-until-marriage” approaches to curbing teen pregnancy. The organization also said it views the changes as a pretext for the eventual elimination of the program.

“The lawsuit seeks to protect the future of the TPP program,” Planned Parenthood said in a statement. “If successful, the lawsuit will ensure that the TPP program maintains its evidence-based principles and that new grantees are not forced to push dangerous (abstinence-only-until-marriage) curriculums.”

Multiple Planned Parenthood affiliates filed the litigation Thursday and Friday in US district courts in Spokane, Washington, and New York City, respectively, against the department, Secretary Alex Azar and HHS senior policy adviser Valerie Huber. Before taking her position in the administration, Huber headed Ascend, a teen-abstinence advocacy organization.

The lawsuit alleges there was a shift in preference for abstinence-focused programs outlined in an April funding opportunity announcement. In that document, HHS does not explicitly mention that approach but calls for projects that focus on “sexual risk avoidance” or “sexual risk reduction.” Sexual health and education organizations like Planned Parenthood and the Guttmacher Institute argue that the use of such terminology is simply rebranding of abstinence-only language.

At the time of the April announcement, HHS told CNN the funding opportunities “are open to a broad field of teen pregnancy prevention organizations and approaches.”

The announcement outlines expectations for grant recipients to “clearly communicate” that “teen sex is a risk behavior,” equating it to “other risk behaviors, such as drug use, lack of physical activity, and failing to use a seatbelt when riding in a car.”

“Both risk avoidance and risk reduction approaches can and should include skills associated with helping youth delay sex as well as skills to help those youth already engaged in sexual risk to return toward risk-free choices in the future,” the document reads.

In its lawsuit, Planned Parenthood argues that the new funding stipulations violate the congressional mandate that underlies the program: to provide federal grants for evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention programs. A 2016 report published in the journal Pediatrics concluded that abstinence-only sexual education programs are ineffective.

HHS did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment on the lawsuit.

It is not the first time HHS has faced a court battle over intended changes to the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program. The agency was hit with a number of lawsuits after attempting to end the current grant funding for the program early. Federal judges decided against HHS in each of those instances, ruling the early termination was unlawful.