The Trump administration’s answer to questions surrounding family planning and safe sex is to give preference for $260 million in grants to groups stressing abstinence and “fertility awareness.” Instead of urging at-risk members of the public to use condoms and other forms of protection, the administration favors far-less safe and effective measures such as the rhythm method.

A president who is currently fighting to keep secret the details of his 2006 sexual liaison with a porn star probably is the last person to serve as a national role model on this issue. But even this administration can do better to raise public awareness on the importance of family planning.

Low-income Missourians will still have access to all forms of contraception despite a new Trump administration strategy emphasizing abstinence. The head of the organization that distributes nearly $5 million in Missouri says agencies will continue providing information on the administration’s preferred methods while ensuring that all methods of contraception are available.

Michelle Trupiano, executive director of the nonprofit Missouri Health Council Inc., says she does not anticipate a funding gap, although the new strategy has delayed distribution of Title X family-planning grants. The money is distributed to 18 health agencies that provide cancer screenings, breast exams, infectious disease testing and contraception for nearly 45,000 men, women and teens, she said.

These funds are critical to maintaining the health and welfare of low-income Missourians, particularly women. President Donald Trump has repeatedly thumbed his nose at science while embracing unproven ideological beliefs, some of which he clearly doesn’t embrace in his personal life.

Effective and accessible contraception has helped lower rates of unplanned pregnancies in the U.S., thereby reducing the number of abortions. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last year that there were fewer abortions in 2014 than at any time since abortion was legalized in 1973. Adolescent pregnancies decreased 55 percent between 1990 and 2011. Birth rates for women between 15 and 19 declined an additional 35 percent between 2011 and 2016, according to the data.

Much of the goal of family-planning and contraception is to reduce the abortion rate by limiting unintended pregnancies and to decrease the number of sexually transmitted infections. There are enormous health, social and economic benefits for women who control their own reproductive health.

The administration’s emphasis on abstinence and natural family planning — including the so-called rhythm method — is part of a familiar pattern of shifting away from scientific, evidence-based policies toward non-scientific ideologies. With the current shift, Trump is undermining nearly 50 years of successful family-planning efforts.

Abstinence is 100 percent effective if practiced consistently. That’s a big if. Fertility awareness is effective if practitioners have a nearly medical understanding of hormonal cycles and adhere to them unfailingly.

Editorial by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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