State officials formally asked the federal government for permission last week to strip TennCare payments to clinics that provide elective abortions.
They also asked if Tennesseans had any comment on the move. They did. Pink-shirted advocates flooded public hearings in Nashville on Friday and Monday. Public comment on the move is open until Friday, July 13th via mail and email.
State lawmakers passed the bill — aimed primarily at defunding Planned Parenthood — this year, and Governor Bill Haslam signed it in April. Lawmakers said, simply, they did not want taxpayer funds to be used in clinics that perform elective abortions. Representative Jimmy Matlock, the bill's House sponsor, said its passing was a "huge win" for Tennesseans "who believed in the sanctity of life."
- A public hearing last week.
"Putting an end to abortion is one of the primary reasons I got involved in politics," he said in a statement. "The very idea that our money was being handed over to industry executives who have proudly killed millions of babies for profit, and there was supposedly nothing we could do about it, absolutely sickened me."
No TennCare money is spent directly on abortions. But lawmakers felt paying the clinics anything indirectly supported abortion.
Rebecca Terrell, executive director with Choices Memphis Center for Reproductive Health, called that assertion "absurd."
"If anything, private revenues from abortion care often subsidize our provision of critically needed services to a growing population of Tennesseans without access to other health-care providers," Terrell said. "In other words, you're welcome, Tennessee."
Officials with Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi (PPTNM) called the state's move "politically motivated" and "dangerous."
"This amendment blocks patients with low incomes, who already face systemic barriers to care due to racist and discriminatory policies, from accessing critical care at Planned Parenthood in Tennessee," reads a statement from the organization. "Governor Haslam's politically motivated agenda is dangerous to Tennesseans and will harm people in need of basic health-care services."
Texas cut funding to similar clinics in 2011, in an effort to defund Planned Parenthood. After the cuts, 82 family planning clinics closed; two-thirds of them were not Planned Parenthood clinics.
In response to the cuts, the federal government (under the Obama adminstration) cut $35 million in annual funds to the state. Lawmakers there are hopeful that the Trump adminstration will help restore the funds. The ask was made in May 2017 and Texas officials still have no answer.
PPTNM officials said Tennessee's request would exclude at least 600,000 patients from getting care at their clinics and others like them. While those clinics do provide abortion services, they also provide birth control, cancer screenings, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, and more.
In 2010, 56 percent of all pregnancies in Tennessee were unintended, and in 2016, 53 percent of women who gave birth were TennCare or Medicaid recipients, according to PPTNM.
"This proposed waiver does nothing to improve the integrity and effectiveness of the Medicaid program for Tennesseans," said Ashley Coffield, CEO of PPTNM. "The last thing Tennesseans need is to have their options for reproductive and sexual health care restricted by additional barriers such as the proposed waiver."