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Federal government ends teen pregnancy prevention grants

File: A close-up of contraceptive pills on Sept. 1, 1966.
Evening Standard/Getty Images
File: A close-up of contraceptive pills on Sept. 1, 1966.

The University of Southern California is one of more than 80 institutions nationwide that is losing millions of federal grant dollars that had been allocated for studying and implementing evidence-based sexual health education programs.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is slashing $213.6 million from its teen pregnancy prevention program and ending the institutions' five-year grants early. The cuts were first reported by Reveal.

An HHS spokesperson confirms the agency's Office of Adolescent Health is not awarding continuation funds to its grantees.

"An agency may decide not to make a non-competing continuation award within the current competitive segment because continued funding would not be in the best interests of the Federal government," the spokesperson says in a statement.

To Luanne Rohrbach, an associate professor of preventive medicine at USC and principal investigator on USC's grant project, the move signals the federal government will be supporting abstinence-only education, rather than comprehensive sexual education.

"We're completely disheartened to think that there is a movement now that is clearly being pushed at the federal level to get us back to the days of just talking about abstinence with kids," she said.

Rohrbach added, "We've tried it and there's been extensive research done on abstinence-only approaches and the conclusion of that research is that they are not effective."

The administration has appointed several social conservative leaders to HHS. Secretary Tom Price opposes abortion and federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

Valerie Huber, the chief of staff for the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health, was the leader of the National Abstinence Education association, which recently renamed itself Ascend, AP reports. Teresa Manning, the department's deputy assistant secretary for population affairs, is a former lobbyist with the National Right to Life Committee and has criticized several contraceptive methods during her career, according to the Washington Post.

Rohrbach's project, called Keeping It Real Together, was supposed to receive $2 million each year through 2020. It will now end on June 30, 2018.

Under the grant, USC, with the LA County public health department's Division of HIV and STD Programs and others, is implementing three evidence-based sexual health programs designed to prevent and reduce teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases among teenagers. The programs are in areas where data shows that youth are at the highest risk for teen pregnancy.

The grant-funded Keeping It Real Together team has trained teachers at Los Angeles and Compton Unified School District middle schools to implement a comprehensive sexual education program and provided teachers with materials and technical support.

It has also trained teachers at an alternative high school system to implement a comprehensive sexual education program targeted at higher-risk students and implemented a program that teaches parents how to talk to their kids about sex and encourage kids to avoid sex until they're older.

The programs have filled gaps in comprehensive sexual education at middle schools and alternative schools, Rohrbach says, adding the grant has, "really expanded greatly the number of kids that are reached with this kind of information."

Reveal reports that additionally, a $2.9 million grant split among five groups, including Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, was eliminated immediately. It says they were unfunded after one year of their five-year projects

These groups were responsible for providing resources, such as training for recruitment and communication, to other grant holders, according to Reveal. KPCC could not independently verify this information.

California's teen birth rate has reached a record-low, but there are still ethnic and geographic disparities, according to the state Department of Public Health.