In today’s version of “Just Say No,” first lady Nancy Reagan’s approach to drug use in the 1980s, President Donald Trump’s administration is cutting more than $213 million in funding to help prevent teen pregnancy. The move eliminates evidence-based pregnancy prevention and research programs, and family planning services, but leaves money for abstinence-only education. In addition, Trump appointed a prominent abstinence-only advocate as assistant secretary of Health and Human Services.
Sex education experts agree that abstinence should be taught, along with a host of other prevention methods. Reputable scientific studies suggest abstinence-only sex education is insufficient in reducing teen pregnancies and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.
Parents want their teens to learn about more foolproof methods for preventing unplanned pregnancies. In the Parkway School District here, parents whose children received such education from a faith-based contractor were outraged, contending the program could do more harm than good in preparing young people as they become sexually active.
Yanking Title X funding will not produce good results, either. The program is credited with preventing millions of unplanned pregnancies by providing proven contraceptive services and related preventive health services to low-income and uninsured women and men. It allocates nearly $300 million a year to shape policy and regulations about such things as contraception and teen pregnancy.
The administration’s unusual move circumvented the traditional budgetary process, cutting three years from five-year grants awarded by the Obama administration. That has left scientists and public health officials at more than 80 affected institutions scrambling to salvage research projects already underway.
Regionally, it will affect the Missouri Family Health Council, which runs the Title X program, and Better Family Life in St. Louis, which participates in teen pregnancy prevention programs.
Access to safe, reliable birth control and evidence-based sex education has pushed the U.S. to its lowest rate of unintended pregnancy in 30 years, and to historic lows for teen pregnancy. Lowering those rates has also significantly reduced abortion rates, which in 2014 were at their lowest level since the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion in 1973.
Pulling the plug on research and programs proven to be effective in preventing pregnancies and abortions is the wrong way to go. Abstinence is the only 100 percent effective way to prevent pregnancy and disease transmission during sex, but there are too many other pressures on young people to become sexually active. They must be taught other ways to avoid pregnancy and disease.
Trump, HHS Secretary Tom Price and Valerie Huber, the new HHS assistant secretary in charge of pregnancy prevention programs, oppose federal funding for birth control and advocate abstinence to control teen pregnancies. Just Say No didn’t work on drug use and it won’t work on teen pregnancy, either.