U.S. urges end to lawsuits over 'abstinence-only' for pregnant teens

August 2, 2018 6:18 PM EDT

People walk past a Planned Parenthood clinic in the Manhattan borough of New York, November 28, 2015. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The U.S. government is urging federal judges to dismiss two lawsuits by Planned Parenthood affiliates over its efforts to impose what they called an "abstinence-only-until-marriage" focus in its Teen Pregnancy Protection Program.

In court filings this week, government lawyers representing the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said Planned Parenthood lacked standing to sue because it chose not to apply for grants from the program.

They also said its new criteria for awarding grants were "reasonable," and consistent with Congressional intent and HHS' past practices.

Planned Parenthood on Thursday had no immediate comment on the filings, which were made in the federal courts in Manhattan and in Spokane, Washington.

The organization provides abortions and other health services to women.

HHS in May changed its criteria for awarding grants under the teen pregnancy prevention program, which Planned Parenthood said has since its 2010 creation served more than 1 million young people and helped lower the teen birth rate by 41 percent.

In seeking an injunction against awarding grants under the new criteria, Planned Parenthood said research has shown an abstinence-only focus on teen pregnancy is ineffective.

It also said the administration's approach "stigmatizes" teens for having sex and restricts their ability to make informed health choices, and that the changes might be a precursor to ending the program altogether.

The government countered that the changes did not favor "sexual risk avoidance" programs over "sexual risk reduction" programs, and that the public interest would not be served if grants were halted to recipients able to put them to "good use."

The cases cover Planned Parenthood affiliates in New York City, Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Nebraska and Washington.

The cases are Planned Parenthood of New York City Inc v U.S. Department of Health and Human Services et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 18-05680; and Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho et al v U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Washington, No. 18-00207.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York)

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