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Baltimore to join lawsuit to restore teen pregnancy education funding

Baltimore to join lawsuit to restore teen pregnancy education funding

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Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)
Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

Baltimore city next week will join a federal lawsuit asking the federal government to restore promised grant funding to a program that provides evidence-based education to reduce teen birth rates.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services ended the five-year program two years early, leaving the city without $3.5 million to put toward its efforts to reduce teen pregnancy.

“This cut is shocking and unprecedented,” said Dr. Leana Wen, the Baltimore City Health Commissioner, in a conference call Friday with reporters. “Congress authorized the funding, which is available… This grant is also coming at a time when we have made remarkable progress in reducing teen birth rates.”

Baltimore will join the lawsuit filed last month by the Healthy Teen Network, a Baltimore-based nonprofit that promotes healthy outcomes in teens. It used the federal grant money to create a web-based mobile app that provides medically accurate and age-appropriate sexual and reproductive health information.

The city used the funding for a program that used evidence-based methods to teach middle school and high school health and physical education teachers how to teach sexual education. The program trained more than 115 teachers and helped educate more than 12,000 Baltimore city teenagers, according to the health department.

Students who learned from the program said it helped empower them to make better sexual decisions, Wen said. And the evidence supported the education: health department data shows Baltimore’s teen pregnancy rate has fallen more than 60 percent since 2000.

“This (program) has been an extraordinary benefit to the young people throughout the city,” said Baltimore City Solicitor Andre M. Davis. “We have done the job that these funds were intended to permit us to do and we are entitled on behalf of these young people to continue to do the job.

The Department of Health and Human Services last summer informed all 81 local agencies receiving the grant, including the Baltimore City Health Department, that it would be terminating the grant early. The city was given no rationale for the decision, Wen said.

But Sen. Chris Van Hollen said he suspects Department of Health and Human Services official Valerie Huber was behind the change.

“It’s been very unclear as to what their rationale is,” said Van Hollen, D-Maryland. “(Huber) has been an opponent of these kinds of programs.”

Before joining the Trump administration, Huber held leadership roles at several organizations that support abstinence-only sex education. Data shows abstinence-only education works significantly less to prevent teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases than comprehensive sex education.

The city needs the funding sooner rather than later, Van Hollen added.

“We have made progress but now is not the time to stop and reverse that progress,” he said. “We need to continue the progress.”

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