I read a good quote this week: "Abortion has poisoned the well of American politics." Truer words have seldom been written. Unlike most issues, abortion offers no middle ground, no room for compromise. One side sees a fetus as a "person," making abortion a "murder" that needs to be prohibited in almost every instance, from conception on. For the other side, it's about a woman being allowed to control her own body and reproductive choices, rather than having those decisions made by a state or federal government.
The battle is being fought at every level, from the presidential race down to local government. Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin brought the issue to the fore this week with his comments that parsed rape into "legitimate" and, presumably, illegitimate categories, and further stating that a "legitimate" rape victim has biological mechanisms that will prevent pregnancy.
Though GOP candidates Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan rightfully denounced Akin's remarks, Ryan was tainted by the fact that in 2009 he and Akin co-sponsored a "Sanctity of Human Life" bill that declared human life begins at conception. It denied the right to abortion for any woman who had not been "forcibly" raped. Non-forced rapes would have included statutory rape and other instances where, presumably, a woman had just been talked into being raped.
And the issue has trickled down to Shelby County, as demonstrated in this week's cover story by Hannah Sayle. In 2011, the Republican-controlled Tennessee legislature defunded Planned Parenthood and made the Shelby County Health Department responsible for dispensing Title X reproductive services, a job it was not equipped to handle. The county got permission to seek a third-party vendor, the role Planned Parenthood had performed for years. But, under pressure from local Republicans and the Luttrell administration, the third-party grant was awarded to Christ Community Health Services.
As the cover story makes clear, CCHS was unprepared to deliver the level of services required by the contract and for several months provided Title X services to a very small number of people. Complicating matters is the fact that CCHS does not provide abortion services, nor does it provide "morning after" contraception.
But providing reproductive services to Shelby Countians in the most effective way possible was not the point. The point was to deny funding to Planned Parenthood.
Point made. Well poisoned.