As the Trump administration lurches from crisis to setback to defeat, it’s easy to see the White House as completely incompetent.
But there is one thing this crew has done breathtakingly well: attack women’s health.
From my position overseeing Public Health - Seattle & King County, I can connect the dots to see the disturbing pattern of Trump and the Republican Congress orchestrating a movement to reshape how women access—or are denied—family planning.
They start with science.
In July, the Department of Health and Human Services suddenly cut funding of Teen Pregnancy Prevention grants, which pay for evaluations of sex education efforts, including a program run by Public Health.
Our own Public Health department created one of the nation’s most widely-used sex ed curriculums, called FLASH. It’s in every Seattle public school and many others across Washington and other states.
With a $5 million federal grant, we were halfway into a 5-year study to show the impact of FLASH on students' ability to resist peer pressure and govern their own sexuality, including being able to confidently choose to not have sex, and protecting themselves by using birth control and condoms if they are sexually active. The research is taking place in schools in the Midwest and rural south. Now, the money has been cut in an attempt to prevent us from being able to say that FLASH is truly “evidence-based.”
Similarly, our local Planned Parenthood also received federal Teen Pregnancy Prevention grants to evaluate a peer-education program designed to help reduce pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections among LGBTQ youth, and to provide evidence-based programs in areas of highest need.
The reason for the cuts is chilling: these projects run counter to the Administration’s notion that we should preach abstinence and that should be the end of the conversation. But here’s the thing: abstinence-only sex ed has been widely shown to be ineffective, and in some cases even harmful. The more comprehensive approaches being evaluated teach abstinence, and they teach other methods of pregnancy prevention. This has been shown to help young people develop agency over their own lives and bodies and avoid being pressured into sexual activity before they are ready – presumably a goal of abstinence-only proponents.
Using evidence-based approaches, and making birth control readily accessible, King County has achieved nation-leading success, reducing teen birth rates by 55 percent from 2008-2015.
My administration is fighting back. Yesterday, my health department filed an appeal with the U.S. Office of Adolescent Health over its decision to defund our grant.
At King County, we are determined to continue our successful work, and our partnerships with Planned Parenthood and others, to reduce unintended pregnancies in the community and drive down the teen birth rate. But if the Trump administration cuts our research, we should all be concerned about school districts in other parts of the nation that will be confronted with difficult decisions about what sex education curriculum to use in their local schools without the benefit of a scientifically-tested program like FLASH as an option.
Along with House Republicans eliminating birth control funding for lower income and teenage women – and the persistent efforts to bar all federal funding to Planned Parenthood in healthcare reform – it is clear what Trump and his allies are up to. We’re committed to showing a better way – with facts, science and local values as our guide.
Dow Constantine is the King County Executive.