Trump Defunds Teens

Cutting evidence-based sex-education programs in favor of abstinence-only

The Department of Health and Human Services, run by Trump-appointee and leader in the abstinence-only-until-marriage movement Valerie Huber, is discontinuing all teen pregnancy prevention programs, cutting two years from what was supposed to be a five-year grant. Pima County's two programs, originally awarded $1.3 million a year, along with more than 80 programs nationwide, will lose all federal funding as of June 2018.

The models for these programs have strong evidence of success, even according to DHHS, who made the cuts. With a five-year research plan and a total budget of about $100 million a year, the programs began publishing results last summer, showing success in reducing sexual activity and pregnancy among teens. And yet, the Trump administration is putting a stop to the research and education with little explanation.

Child & Family Resources, Inc., the non-profit running the local programs, has been working with educators in the Sunnyside School District to teach kids about both abstinence and consent, fostering healthy relationships and avoiding STDs and unwanted pregnancy.

"The new administration in D.C.—the new president—has a different priority, so his budget does not allow for any funding for science-based teen pregnancy prevention programing," says Marie Fordney, director of CFR's Prevention Programs for Youth. "It's disheartening because there's been a marked decline in teen pregnancy over the last several years, and there's scientific consensus that our approach, the last decade of teaching medically-accurate sex education, is working."

Even the administration seems to agrees that the current programs work. When President Trump first proposed the cuts in March, the proposal called the programs "evidence-based, innovative approaches to teen pregnancy prevention."

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention looked at the effectiveness of such programs from 2010 to 2015 and found they curbed teen pregnancy, STDs and risky sexual behaviors. And from 2007 to 2015, as these programs were more widely implemented, teen birth rates in the U.S. dropped by almost half.

The Youth Advisory Council, a component of CRF's prevention programs that is comprised of youth ages 11 through 19, meets twice a month to talk about healthy sexual activity and relationships. One council leader, 17-year-old Ysabeloe Garcia, says the government is letting down Arizona's youth. She goes to school in the Tucson Unified School District and says before these programs, the sole sex education she received was abstinence only.

"I think it's really disappointing that they want a lower teen-pregnancy rate, they want less abortions, but they're not giving us the tools to achieve those things," Garcia says. "It's so wild. You want to teach kids how to be safe and the right way to do things, but you're not even using facts."

While funding is cut for these comprehensive programs, the budget allots $20 million for sexual-risk avoidance education, formerly known as abstinence-only education. The budget does stipulate that the abstinence-only approach must use a medically accurate, peer-reviewed, evidence-based approach.

Studies have found the sexual-risk-avoidance approach actually increases teen pregnancy and STD rates, Fordney says, adding that there are other, more effective abstinence programs that are losing funding because they fall under the teen-pregnancy-prevention umbrella.

"'Abstinence only until marriage' or 'sexual-risk avoidance' are the ones that are this particular formula that you have to follow that upholds heterosexual, monogamous marriage as the only acceptable place for sexual activity," she says. "It ignores or alienates youth who might not end up falling into that category."

According to the peer-reviewed academic journal covering research on human sexuality, "Sexuality Research and Social Policy," abstinence-only education does not delay teens from being sexually active and has little positive effects at all, but about two-thirds of comprehensive programs show "strong evidence that they positively affected young people's sexual behavior, including both delaying initiation of sex and increasing condom and contraceptive use."

One of the CFR programs is Guy Talk. Geared toward male high school freshman, it's one of few sex-ed programs that addresses males' responsibility in consent and pregnancy.

"It was sort of looking at the non-traditional approach, not thinking of women as the sexual gatekeepers but instead thinking of men as equal partners in the process," Fordney says. "It's helping them define their own masculinity and not conform to societal expectations."

The other program, Mobilization for a Positive Future, is serving over 2,500 eighth and ninth graders, per year, in the Sunnyside district, which has many low-income and minority families and higher teen pregnancy rates.

CFR is looking for additional funding and hopes to find a way to continue the programs.

Thanks to what the district has learned in its collaboration with CFR, they will be able to continue the programs for another two years, maybe more, though they have limited resources to do so without the government grants, says Victor Mercado, director of public information for Sunnyside who also sits on the CFR board.

Being on the Youth Advisory Council has taught 17-year-old Miranda Escobar about healthy relationships and boundaries.

"Knowing what's best for you and knowing when to take a step back," she says. "And learning how to be able to talk about things openly."