SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — A federal judge has issued a permanent injunction blocking the Trump administration from cutting grants to Planned Parenthood that pay for a teenage pregnancy prevention program in several states, including Nebraska and Iowa.
U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Rice of Spokane issued his ruling after listening to arguments from attorneys for Planned Parenthood and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“The Court finds that HHS arbitrarily and capriciously terminated the (teen pregnancy prevention) Program,” Rice wrote.
“The Court determines that the public interest weighs in favor of (Planned Parenthood), as it would prevent harm to the community and prevent loss of data regarding the effectiveness of teen pregnancy prevention.”
The federal agency in July informed recipients of 81 teen pregnancy prevention grants that it would terminate their grant agreements two years early, despite previously seeking competitive bids for a firm to conduct the five-year study.
The federal grant funded sex education in five Nebraska and Iowa counties with teen pregnancy rates higher than state and national averages: Douglas and Dakota Counties in Nebraska; and Pottawattamie, Woodbury and Page Counties in Iowa.
Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, which serves both states, got $967,988 per year for the programs.
The grant money was slated to last until 2020.
The lawsuit was filed in February by Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho and joined by Planned Parenthood affiliates in several other states.
Jonathan Jacobson, a Justice Department attorney, argued Tuesday that HHS Secretary Alex Azar had the power to end the program at any time.
Jacobson told Rice, according to the Spokesman-Review newspaper: “There is no legal entitlement to further funding beyond each funding year. It’s the agency’s discretion.”
But attorneys for Planned Parenthood said the move would devastate research.
“Research doesn’t happen overnight. This was set up as a five-year program,” attorney Nathan Castellano said. “Pulling the plug on these programs is extreme. It causes irreparable harm. Teens won’t get the benefit of the program, and the general public won’t get the benefit of the research.”
The Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program has served about 1.2 million teens in 39 states and the Marshall Islands to date, the lawsuit said.
Carrie Flaxman, a staff attorney for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said she believes the move signals a shift in sex education policy under President Donald Trump to an abstinence-only agenda.
The agency cut the funding to the 81 programs a month after Trump appointed Valerie Huber as chief of staff for the Office of Assistant Secretary of Health. After her appointment, Huber wrote an article decrying the lack of federal funding for abstinence education and questioned the effectiveness of teen pregnancy prevention grants.
The decision late Tuesday marked the second time a federal judge found in favor of Planned Parenthood’s arguments after a ruling last week in Washington, D.C.