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By Richard Locker January 30, 2012

Funding cut for Planned Parenthood

Gov. Bill Haslam made that statement in response to a questionnaire from the Tennessee Newspaper Network in a project called: "Tennessee"s Governor"s Race: Compare the Candidates,” a comparison of the gubernatorial candidates' positions on issues published before the 2010 elections.  Tennessee anti-abortion activists and legislators had tried for years to end about $1.1 million per year in federal "Title X” family-planning contracts with Planned Parenthood in Memphis and Nashville, which they argued subsidized abortions – a charge that Planned Parenthood vigorously denied and which would be illegal under state and federal law. The two Planned Parenthood affiliates had received the annual grants since the 1970s, under contract with the Davidson and Shelby counties public health departments, and used the money to provide family planning services – including birth control counseling, drugs and devices -- and health services like testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases and screenings for breast and cervical cancers. In 93 of Tennessee's 95 counties, the local health departments could provide those services themselves, but the large populations in Davidson and Shelby counties left the local health departments unable to cover them all so they contracted with Planned Parenthood to help provide services.  

The governor's office in a Jan. 12, 2012,  response to our question on this, marked Haslam's promise to end the contracts as "Fulfilled.” The response added: "... and we asked Davidson and Shelby county health departments spending federal pass-through funds to transition out of contracts with the organization.”

We find the governor's office correct, although getting there was not easy. The "defunding” occurred after a highly publicized battle in the months following the 2011 state legislative session. In a nutshell, the Legislature's new Republican majority thought it had cut off all Planned Parenthood funding via an amendment to the state appropriations bill – only to discover just after the Legislature adjourned for the year that a separate, little-noticed "mystery” amendment declared the earlier amendment void. In any event, legislative attorneys said that it's unconstitutional to amend general law through the appropriations bill.

Anti-abortion activists, angered over the unexpected turn of events, began an email and telephone campaign asking Haslam  to come up with some other way to divert funding from Planned Parenthood. He did, directing the state Health Department to step up its efforts to encourage  Davidson and Shelby counties to end their local contracts with Planned Parenthood.  Davidson County did last summer, but it became a battle in Shelby County until it also went along last fall.

Tennessee Right to Life issued a statement on Oct. 18 declaring victory and giving a large share of the credit to Haslam and others.

Our ruling: Promise Kept

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