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Unfunded and Unfounded

An extremist ploy in the Tennessee General Assembly would restrict access to life-saving health care for Mid-South women.

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Socially conservative politicians in Nashville are doing everything they can to prevent women, especially young and poor women, from accessing the health care they need to stay healthy and plan their families. Extremists in the Tennessee General Assembly are trying to impose their radical ideology by putting unreasonable restrictions on a family-planning program that serves hundreds of thousands of women in Tennessee, merely to punish Planned Parenthood.

Title X of the Public Health Service Act has been in effect since 1970, providing family-planning services for those in need in clinics throughout the country. In Tennessee, Title X funds support 130 clinics, including Planned Parenthood health centers in Memphis, Nashville, and Knoxville. Those clinics serve many of the 350,000 women and teens in Tennessee who need contraceptive services. Twenty percent of those women are uninsured. 

Planned Parenthood has been a Title X provider in Tennessee since the early 1970s, working closely with the Tennessee Department of Health and local health departments to meet the many requirements of the Title X family-planning program.

Title X family-planning clinics are an entry point to the health-care system for women and teens without insurance and those who do not qualify for TennCare. These clinics help women prevent unintended pregnancies, plan healthy pregnancies, lower rates of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS, and detect breast and cervical cancer at its earliest stages, when it is most treatable. And to be very clear, long-standing federal law prohibits the use of any of these funds for abortion services either directly or indirectly.

Title X funding doesn't cover the full cost of providing preventive services to low-income patients, yet the grant requires providers to continue treating qualified patients after all the grant monies have been spent. The Memphis and Shelby County Health Department doesn't have the financial resources to bear the full cost of providing Title X services.

Still, some lawmakers in Nashville want to force our health department to accept all the Title X funding allotted for Shelby County, rather than allowing Planned Parenthood to provide some of the services and share the costs. Being forced to accept all of the Title X funding would actually cost our local health department more — costs that would have to come from local tax revenues.

It amounts to an unfunded mandate on local government. It is amazing that lawmakers from Middle and East Tennessee think they know how to run our local health programs and allocate local tax dollars better than we do.

Planned Parenthood is the leading provider of reproductive health care in America. One woman in five in America has turned to a Planned Parenthood health center for care at some point. One of those women is Holly Ashmore of Memphis, who says, "When I first moved to Memphis, I was constantly without health insurance, either because I was at a temporary position or because my small employer couldn't afford it. Throughout those years of not being able to access standard medical care and birth control, Planned Parenthood was there to get me the health care I needed."

Thousands of women like Holly who live in the Memphis area rely on Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region's services. The Title X family-planning program allows Planned Parenthood to serve those women and teens, who may have no other source for reproductive health care.

If extremists in the Tennessee General Assembly have their way, they will restrict access to life-saving health care for thousands of women and teens in West Tennessee. Their plan to punish Planned Parenthood would cost us more in local tax revenues and more importantly, its impact will also be measured in undiagnosed cancers, untreated STIs, and a flood of unintended pregnancies and abortions.

Any public official who considers that a good deal should resign. If our state legislators are serious about health and serious about good governance, they will do what's right and reject this unfunded mandate.

Barry Chase is president and CEO of Planned Parenthood, Greater Memphis Region.

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