The Nashville-Davidson Metro Health Department has agreed to accept the full amount of its share of federal funding for family planning assistance, thus eliminating any funding Planned Parenthood would receive through the state to provide services in that area.
The move comes on the heels of a request by the Tennessee Department of Health commissioner, who had asked county health departments to expand family planning services, which would subsequently cut off payments to Planned Parenthood, a third-party nonprofit contractor that currently aids in that capacity.
The request was made at the direction of Gov. Bill Haslam, who sought to halt the flow of taxpayer dollars to Planned Parenthood.
Prominent Republican elected leaders in the General Assembly say their long-running desire to defund the nonprofit abortion provider was accidentally thwarted when language preventing the move inexplicably showed up in the final version of the budget the Legislature passed last month.
The Memphis Department of Health — the only other Tennessee jurisdiction with a Planned Parenthood facility that receives Title X federal government funding — has not yet committed to expanding operations in exchange for additional dollars but is asking for more time to make a decision, according to a spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Health.
The $359,000 boost will bring Metro Nashville’s health department budget for family planning services up to $894,700, according to a department spokesman, enabling the agency to take on more clients or seek out other clinics in the community to handle the overflow.
If Memphis accepts the federal funds, its same budget will climb to $1.345 million.
Gov. Haslam said this week his office was looking into options for eliminating government funding for Planned Parenthood, like the Republican-led Legislature intended. However, he said he does not believe he has the authority to cut $1.1 million in federal dollars to the independent clinics with a line-item veto.
Planned Parenthood offers women health care, birth control and STD counseling and medical services. And while U.S. law prohibits national tax dollars from directly funding abortions, the clinics run by the federally funded nonprofit do provide them.
Activists with Tennessee Right to Life wanted the governor to direct federal family-planning dollars solely to local health departments, so they may expand their operations instead of outsourcing to third-party nonprofit providers like Planned Parenthood.
“Our position has been for the governor, who ran as a pro-life candidate who specifically addressed this issue in 2010 as a candidate, to fulfill his campaign commitment,” said Brian Harrison, president of Tennessee Right to Life.
The group this week encouraged its network of abortion opponents to call and e-mail the governor, demanding he find a way to cut public funds to Planned Parenthood.
“To say that the public subsidy (for Planned Parenthood) is not assisting in the abortion-end of their business doesn’t pass the common-sense test, obviously,” said Harris.
Jeff Teague, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee, denounced the effort to strip government funding from his organization.
“It’s pretty shocking that the people who are so obsessed with abortion are willing to sacrifice women’s health,” said Teague, who added that the centers will now have to charge women more money for health care.
Ranking Republican lawmakers in the Tennessee General Assembly aren’t inclined to reveal exactly how Planned Parenthood got “re-funded” in the rush to close out the session last month — a development that left Knoxville Sen. Stacey Campfield confused and angry.
“I’ve never seen anything like this happen in the past — where somebody just adds in wording to the budget without adding an amendment, without even the sponsor knowing about it,” said Campfield, who spearheaded the effort to deprive Planned Parenthood of government funding.
“Obviously it was done intentionally,” wrote Campfield in a blog post expressing his dismay.
Gerald McCormick, the House Republican Leader, says he doubts what happened was illegal or done in a spirit of contempt for Tennessee’s legislative processes.
“I don’t think there was anything sinister. It was just a technical correction,” he said. “I think it was an innocent maneuver.”
“Both these guys that I talked to are very much pro-life, and I don’t think they would do anything to sabotage anything in that movement,” McCormick said of the Senate lawmakers he believes are responsible.
Mark Norris, the Senate Republican leader, said he knew nothing of Planned Parenthood funding being reinserted in the budget.
Nor does he seem to really care how it got there. “Some people would say it’s a big conspiracy,” he said, adding that he isn’t particularly interested in “whodunit.”
“The main thing to me is the health care needs of these women who may disdain Planned Parenthood as much as I do,” said Norris. “Their health care needs need to be met.”
House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, issued an ambiguous joint statement late on the Friday before the Memorial Day holiday weekend seemingly defending the decision to add back the abortion-provider’s government funding, but without taking responsibility for it or naming the lawmakers who directed the maneuver.
Ramsey and Harwell said “confusion” over the funding was “unfortunate,” but the move was legally necessary.
“The Office of Legal Services advised House and Senate leadership that it is unconstitutional to amend general law through the appropriations bill (Article II, Section 17), an interpretation which would have put the entire budget document in jeopardy,” the Harwell-Ramsey statement said. “It was not our intent to allow funding for Planned Parenthood. Our majority in the General Assembly clearly meant to defund them.”
Upon learning Metro Nashville’s health department would take over the federal funding normally sent to Planned Parenthood, Lt. Gov. Ramsey congratulated the governor on the decision.
“I was proud to lead the charge to turn over family planning services to the county health departments effectively defunding the organization in 93 out of 95 counties. I’d like to praise the Governor for working to completely turn off the spigot of taxpayer funds to Planned Parenthood,” said the Blountville Republican in a press release.
Harwell told TNReport the Legislature took the wrong approach in trying to defund Planned Parenthood in the final days of the Legislative session.
“Clearly we know that the members’ intentions were good,” said the House speaker. “I think the way that we attempted to go about doing it was not the correct way. You cannot change general law through the appropriations bill. And therefore we had to make the change that we did.”