NBC News —  by Elizabeth Chuck. August 25, 2017

Some of the junior high students in Travis County, Texas, break into nervous laughter at the mere mention of sex. Some shyly ask questions.

But most fall silent when Julie Maciel, a health educator, tells them how terrifying it is to become pregnant as a teenager.

Maciel, of Austin, had her daughter when she was only 17. The unplanned pregnancy was largely due to a lack of sex education in schools, she says — something she’s determined to change.

“It’s not just about sex ed. It’s about making decisions about what they want to do in the future. They keep in mind, should I have a baby now, or will that delay my dreams?” said now 21-year-old Maciel, who works for EngenderHealth, a non-profit that depends on federal funding to reach at-risk teens who wouldn’t otherwise have sex ed in school — funding that is now at risk due to deep cuts made by the Trump administration.

Maciel’s work is desperately needed in Texas, which has the fifth-highest teen pregnancy rate in the United States along with the nation’s highest repeat teen pregnancy rate, according to the CDC.

Image: A teenager has birth control options explained to her by a social worker
A teenager has birth control options explained to her at the Children’s Hospital Colorado’s Colorado Adolescent Maternity Program. Marc Piscotty / The Washington Post via Getty Images
But the Lone Star state, like the rest of the country, has experienced a marked drop in teen pregnancies. Last year, teenage births hit a record low in the United States; rates plummeted the most for black and Latina teens, the CDC found, although they’re still up to three times as likely as their white counterparts to give birth.

Many hail an evidence-based, Obama-era federal grant program as the biggest driver behind the dip. Started in 2010, the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program gives $89 million a year to 81 organizations across the United States, including EngenderHealth.

It was renewed in 2015 for another five years.

That’s why it was so surprising to Maciel and others when, tucked away in a letter from the Department of Health and Human Services dated July 3, bad news arrived: The Trump administration had slashed more than $200 million from the program without warning — meaning funding would now end in June 2018, not in 2020.

The abrupt funding cut to teen pregnancy prevention, at a time when teenage births are at historic lows, has been called “highly unusual” by Senate Health Committee Democrats, especially since Congress hasn’t even voted on the 2018 appropriations bill yet. Legislators have until Sept. 30 to figure out the budget, although they could do a short-term continuing resolution and end up voting in December.

Related: Teen Birth Rates Plummet Among Blacks, Latinas: CDC

“I’ve worked at the Health Department for 10 years, and I’ve worked in international health for 20 years prior, and I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Rebecca Dineen, Baltimore’s Assistant Commissioner for Maternal and Child Health, which benefits from the grants. “It really was just this notification that your funds are ending.”

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