Madlock Resisting State Pressure to Go-It-Alone on Family Planning Services

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Health Department director Yvonne Madlock
  • Health Department director Yvonne Madlock
Though the Memphis and Shelby County Health Department had been under stout pressure from state government to assume the full burden of conducting family planning services via Title X federal funds, local Health Department director Yvonne Madlock has managed to extend a Friday deadline for responding on the matter until sometime next week.

And Madlock makes it clear that her department is still hoping to avail itself of local family planning partners so as to “make sure that those resources that have been dedicated to Shelby County come to Shelby County.” As she has before, Madlock maintains that the county Health Department, by itself, “does not have the current capacity” to serve the sizable target population of lower-income women and families in need of family planning services.

“We are going to avail ourselves of being 'creative' partners in making sure these resources are available,” Madlock said, citing what appears to have been a suggested option in the original letter from state Health Commissioner Susan Cooper which sought to commit the local Health Department to assume the full family planning burden of Shelby County.

Madlock said that her Department in its search for such partners “would not include or exclude” Planned Parenthood, the non-profit organization which has traditionally participated with the local Health Department in providing Title X family planning services.

Planned Parenthood was explicitly targeted for exclusion from the Title X program in legislation passed on May 21, the last day of the 2011 session of the Tennessee General Assembly.

A technical sentence in the bill was later adjudged, however, to have nullified the intent of the bill's sponsor, state Senator Stacey Campfield (R-Knoxville), and other ultra-conservative foes of Planned Parenthood who sought to defund the organization.

Hence an intense campaign by opponents of abortion over the last two weeks to achieve the exclusion of Planned Parenthood by executive means.

In that original letter from Commissioner Cooper to Madlock, dated March 24, at a time when Campfield's legislation was first being considered, a key paragraph read as follows: “If the Memphis and Shelby County Health Department is hesitant to accept the full funding because it does not have the capacity to serve this number of unduplicated patients, I would encourage you to think creatively and consider working with community partners who could assist the health department in providing family planning services to the residents of your county.”

However, a second, firmer letter was sent by Cooper this past week with at least the acquiescence of Governor Bill Haslam and under strong urging from Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, the state Senate Speaker and a leading foe of Planned Parenthood. Ramsey, like other adversaries of the organization, considers it a prime enabler of legal abortion, though Planned Parenthood officials contend that it offers a full array of consultative services relating to family health matters.

Cooper's new letter dropped the reference to “unduplicated patients,” substituting the word “citizens”. The letter further asked Madlock that her department take “every step possible” to assume the entire Title X burden.

While Madlock was still considering a preliminary response, the Health Department of Nashville and Davidson County, which had received a version of the same letter, gave what appeared to be an affirmative response to Cooper, simultaneously indicating that compliance would mean a reduction in the number of women served.

The Davidson County action prompted a news release from Ramsey on Friday that included the following statement:

“We are at long last moving towards the final stages of the Planned Parenthood shell game....It has always been the ambition of Republicans in the legislature to defund this organization. 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."

The Lieutenant Governor seemed clearly to be celebrating the end of a contest — one more case, like his successful insistence on legislation prohibiting collective bargaining by public school teachers, in which he succeeded in achieving a stronger outcome than one advanced by Haslam. Though both the governor and Ramsey deny it, more than a few observers see the two ranking Republican office-holders to be in an undeclared rivalry for influence.

But Madlock is so far sticking to her insistence that family planning services cannot be adequately provided in Shelby County without partners who can assist in administering the Title X program with demonstrated expertise and with an independent ability to raise supplementary funds.

And, while she would not limit a definition of such potential partners to Planned Parenthood, Madlock definitely acknowledged that the organization answered the criteria. She said her effort at formulating a “creative” idea for partnership would be communicated to Cooper by the middle of next week.

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