By Ariana Eunjung Cha
The federal funding was curtailed last month without explanation and without warning: $214 million for teen pregnancy prevention programs across the country.
The city of Baltimore lost $3.5 million, money that Health Commissioner Leana Wen said had supported classes in anatomy and physiology and counseling in social and emotional issues related to sex for 20,000 teens, plus training for 115 teachers. She worries what the loss of funds will mean for local teen pregnancy rates, which already are twice as high as the state's and much higher than the U.S. average.
“This is a central health issue for thousands of vulnerable teens,” she said. “What is going to be the downstream effect on society?”
Wen, a physician, was one of 20 health officials from the nation's largest cities who joined Wednesday to denounce the Trump administration for the cuts and who warned that the consequences could be severe. The teen pregnancy prevention program is among many reproductive health initiatives targeted in recent months. Federal officials have also tried to eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood, family planning clinics abroad and grants for scientific research in the field.
Experts have credited better access to contraception and more convenient contraception for teens as well as their increased abstinence. Fewer teens are having sex as a gradual decades-long decline continues, with the latest surveys finding that about 42 percent of girls and about 44 percent of boys ages 15 to 19 report that they have had sex.
Patty Hayes, health commissioner for Seattle & King County in Washington state, signed the letter urging that the prevention grants be restored. Even if you believe in abstinence education, she said Wednesday, science shows that “teaching abstinence alongside birth control has increased abstinence.”