A magistrate judge ruled against the Trump administration in a lawsuit filed by Multnomah County
over federal sex education grants, putting the brakes on the federal government's ability to distribute money based on grant criteria that the county argued favored abstinence-only sex education programs.
In the ruling, federal magistrate Judge Youlee Yim You determined the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services exceeded its authority in changing grant criteria directed by Congress for federal Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program grants.
The county argued in June that new criteria for the grant was re-written to prioritize applicants who aim to use TPP funds for programs that promote abstinence education “that Congress consciously chose not to mandate” in creating the program.
The ruling effectively stops the federal government from distributing grant funding based on the new criteria just two days before it was scheduled to hand the money out to jurisdictions and agencies nationwide, including Multnomah County.
"Each of us has got to figure out, what is our own threshold for going along with something that is less than ideal and waiting things out, versus saying 'Here's where we've got to draw the line' and say we can be doing unintentional damage and harm with some of these policies," said Kim Toevs, a public health director with the Multnomah County Health Department.
The county currently receives nearly $1.25 million annually over a five-year period and received its fourth year of funding on Aug. 20.
The requirements for grant funding were different then, Toevs said. For example, grant applicants were required to be LGBTQ-inclusive in their programs. The Multnomah County Health Department, the only recipient of TPP grants in Oregon, has used the money on a project focused on reducing health disparities between white teens and their black, Latino and Native American counterparts. It’s also avoided abstinence-only sex education.
Multnomah County’s lawsuit was believed to be the first against the new criteria for the TPP grants. The decision in the Oregon case came within an hour of a ruling in another, separate challenge to the criteria filed by Planned Parenthood in the Southern District of New York.
That ruling, in conjunction with the Oregon judge's decision, requires federal health and human services officials to reevaluate how they will distribute the TPP funds to stay in alignment with Congress' original intent. Separate challenges to the new grant criteria are also underway in the Eastern District of Washington.
Funding for new applicants, whose deadline to apply was June 29, were scheduled to go out Sept. 1. HHS said it is not at a point in the grant making process to make notices of grant awards but plans to distribute money before Sept. 30. An HHS spokesperson said HHS does not comment on litigation.
"This ruling supports teens throughout our nation," Toevs said. "It sends a clear message that the science-based and comprehensive sexuality education Congress voted for cannot be undercut on an administrative whim."
The ruling is not the first blow to the Trump administration over the sex education grants. In April, a federal judge in Washington D.C. ruled against the administration in a lawsuit challenging its decision to cut the TPP program completely earlier this year.