Responding to inquiries from Republican lawmakers about Tennessee government’s relationships to Planned Parenthood in wake of the controversial “sting” videos released this summer by a national anti-abortion group, Gov. Bill Haslam sent a letter Wednesday assuring them tax dollars are not used to fund abortions “except as required by federal law.”
“My staff and I have heard from many of you recently who share our shock and concern at the callous disregard for life displayed in the undercover videos of persons employed by Planned Parenthood,” wrote Haslam in an Aug. 12 correspondence to GOP legislators that his office released to the media on Thursday (see below).
“You understandably want to make sure the activities discussed in these videos are not happening i n Tennessee,” the governor’s letter stated.
Haslam noted that “it is a Class E felony to buy or sell an aborted fetus” in Tennessee.
“I would strongly encourage law enforcement and the district attorneys across the state to prosecute anyone who violates that law to the fullest extent possible,” he wrote.
Haslam declared the state’s Department of Health “does not perform ANY abortion related services in any of their local health departments.”
Clinics and surgery centers that receive taxpayer monies are prohibited from using the funds to perform abortions “except as required by federal law when the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest or the woman is in danger of death without such a procedure,” according to Haslam’s letter.
The governor added that while Tennessee “does not contract directly with Planned Parenthood nor send any state dollars to them at our initiative,” there are “a few instances in which the state indirectly interacts with the organization.”
Haslam said the state’s HIV/AIDS and syphilis prevention vendors in Memphis, Knoxville and Nashville subcontract with Planned Parenthood “to assist with those services.”
“In 2011, my administration attempted to terminate such sub-contracts with Planned Parenthood,” wrote Haslam. However, Planned Parenthood sued and won in federal court, he said.
Haslam also said TennCare, the state’s Medicaid program that serves primarily low-income women and children, doesn’t pay for abortions “except as required by federal law” with respect to rape, incest or if the pregnancy poses a threat to the mother’s life.
“No other circumstances are covered,” wrote the governor.
Members of the Legislature’s Joint Government Operations Committee are scheduled Wednesday to conduct hearings on Planned Parenthood operations in Tennessee. Gov. Haslam’s Department of Health commissioner, John Dreyzehner, is scheduled to appear.
The governor’s full letter is below: