Baltimore to join lawsuit against U.S. health agency over cuts to programs that help prevent teen pregnancy

Baltimore Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen said cuts to federal grants for programs that provide sex education threaten to roll back progress in the city.
Baltimore Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen said cuts to federal grants for programs that provide sex education threaten to roll back progress in the city. (Lloyd Fox / Baltimore Sun)

Baltimore is planning to join a lawsuit against President Donald Trump's administration that challenges a cut in federal funding for programs designed to reduce teen pregnancy rates, the city's top lawyer said Wednesday.

The lawsuit alleges that Trump's appointee to a senior position in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has reduced federal grants for programs that do not match the official's belief that people should not have sex until they are married.


The suit was filed last month in U.S. District Court in Baltimore by Healthy Teen Network, a national nonprofit based in the city that has experienced a reduction to a $3.6 million federal grant it received from the federal department to develop and study an app to provide sex education.

"HHS's actions were arbitrary, capricious, and contrary to law, and they have harmed and continue to harm Healthy Teen Network and those served through the grant," the organization wrote in its complaint.

Baltimore's health department initially was awarded an $8.5 million federal grant for five years for a program to provide sex education for about 20,000 students. But last summer the department was told by the federal health agency that the money would be cut off after three years, leading to a loss of $3.5 million.

Dr. Leana Wen, the city's health commissioner, said the reduction would greatly harm the department's ability to provide services.

"We should be doing everything we can to empower youth to succeed and to thrive," Wen said in a statement. "We have made significant progress to reduce teen birth rates, and the last thing that should happen is to roll back the gains that have been made."

The health department says teen pregnancy rates have fallen dramatically since 2000.

Pat Paluzzi, the head of the Healthy Teen Network said she, "welcomes any support in the ongoing challenge against the Administration's unlawful cut to effective teen pregnancy prevention."

A spokesman for the federal health department pointed to a news release from August in which officials said the grant program was not effective, a waste of money and was failing to help the young people it was designed to serve. The spokesman also shared an announcement from November in which the department said it would fund new research on teen pregnancy.

In the lawsuit, lawyers for the Healthy Teen Network said the group had never received a clear explanation for its funding cut. But the lawyers allege the funding shift is connected to the appointment of Valerie Huber, the former leader of an absitence-only organization, to a key position in the federal agency.

The department had previously praised the work of grant recipients and Healthy Teen Network submitted paperwork to continue receiving funds.

But, the group's lawyers wrote, "recently appointed political leadership had other plans, shifting the agency's course dramatically."