Image: AP

A Health and Human Services program aimed at preventing teen pregnancy ended thanks to a group of pro-abstinence Trump appointees, according to internal memos obtained by NBC News; its abrupt termination last August, against the wishes of long-time HHS employees and public health experts, came as the teen pregnancy rate had hit a historic low.

Evelyn Kappeler, who headed up the Office of Adolescent Health, which oversaw the Teen Pregnancy Prevention program, was largely kept in the dark about the cuts to the program. Kappeler says other staff were similarly sidelined in the rush to kill it.

From NBC News:

In a July 17, 2017 note, she says she was admonished to “get in line” and told it was not her place to ask questions about the agency’s use of funds. In a July 28 note, Kappeler recalled she was “frustrated about the time this process is taking and the fact that (her staff) has not been part of the discussions.” She described being “so rattled” that “my reaction when I got on (sic) the phone was to cry.”

She and her staff “were not aware of the grant action until the last minute” — an apparent reference to the decision, it says.

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Another of the Trump appointees who helped put a stake into the program’s heart was Victoria Huber, the chief of staff for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Health. Huber was previously the CEO of Ascend, an abstinence-only association that really doesn’t want teens to do it or know anything about doing it safely.

Ascend packages abstinence as an act of empowerment, employing a method called Sexual Risk Avoidance, which it describes it as “an educational approach based on the public health model of primary prevention to empower youth to avoid ALL the risks of sexual activity.” Ascend, contrary to all available evidence, attributes the record low teen pregnancy rates to teens embracing abstinence. While there are multiple factors contributing to this decline—including an overall reduction in “risk behaviors” among teens, most credible research points instead to increased access to birth control and better sex education, which, again, Ascend totally opposes.

Additionally, a 2005 study from Case Western Reserve University revealed that an abstinence-only program ran by Huber was garbage, full of misinformation about abortion, contraceptives, and STIs. The study also found that Huber’s program taught religious beliefs as scientific fact.

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This is what it looks like to dismantle a federal agency that provides critical public health supports. They’re just getting started.

Read the full NBC News report here.