August 31, 2018

A federal judge Thursday ruled, in a lawsuit brought by Multnomah County, to protect federally-funded sexual education that has been proven effective through rigorous evaluation.

Kim Toevs, director of Youth Sexual Health Equity, announces the lawsuit to protect sex ed

Federal judges in Oregon and New York ruled Thursday, in separate cases, that the Trump Administration contradicted Congress’s unambiguous intent when it allowed unproven abstinence-only programs to apply for Teen Pregnancy Prevention (TPP) Program grants.

"This ruling supports teens throughout our nation. It sends a clear message that the science-based and comprehensive sexuality education Congress voted for cannot be undercut on an administrative whim," said Kim Toevs, director of Youth Sexual Health Equity at Multnomah County. "Here in Multnomah County, we'll continue to offer effective education and skill­-building through strong partnerships with schools and culturally diverse community groups."

Judge Youlee Yim You found, in a lawsuit brought by Multnomah County, that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services lacked authority to eliminate the requirement that programs be evidence-based and proven effective before receiving a Tier 1 TPP grant. The change, Judge You found, disregarded Congress’s mandate.

Health and Human Services “ignores the qualifier that the programs must be ‘proven effective by rigorous evaluation,’” she wrote in her opinion.

The suit was filed on Multnomah County’s behalf by Pacifica Law Group based in Seattle, and Democracy Forward, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit legal organization.

Multnomah County won a Teen Pregnancy Prevention grant in 2015, and partnered with Planned Parenthood Columbia Willamette, Latino Network, Self Enhancement Inc., the Native American Youth and Family Center, and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Portland to address sexual health among Black, Latinx, and Native American teens, whose birth rates are higher than their non-Hispanic White peers.

Multnomah County filed the lawsuit in June of this year after the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services changed the requirements for applicants for grants under the main branch of the TPP Program, which Congress limited to programs that “have been proven effective through rigorous evaluation.” Instead, the criteria would privilege an abstinence-only approach that is contrary to Oregon law and proven ineffective in older teens and teens who are already sexually active. Planned Parenthood of New York City also filed a lawsuit challenging the new terms, which resulted in a similar ruling yesterday.

The new terms would have interfered with grantees’ ability to provide comprehensive sexual health education, even among age groups for whom the message of abstinence-only-until-marriage is unsuitable. Planned Parenthood and Multnomah County argued that to be competitive for the next round of grants, their programs would have had to meet new criteria prioritizing abstinence-only education at the expense of proven educational methods. Multnomah County argued that would contradict Oregon law, which requires that students learn about safe sex and be inclusive of sexual and gender diversity, and prohibits shame- or fear-based teaching.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services responded last month, asking the court to dismiss the suit or rule for summary judgment. Instead, Judge You found the administration violated the congressional intent of the grant and ordered the department to vacate its new grant terms.

“We are proud to stand alongside Multnomah County and our partners to support evidenced-based sex-ed,” said Daniel Guilfoyle, youth advocacy manager for the Native American Youth and Family Center, the County’s partner in its efforts to update curricula. “Comprehensive, inclusive and medically accurate sexual and reproductive health promotes healthy relationships and is primary prevention to reduce sexual and gendered violence. This is education that we all can learn from, old and young, healing our communities together.”