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Anti-Abortion Ruling Bolsters Tennessee's Attempt to Defund Planned Parenthood

An East Tennessee lawmaker has started drafting legislation that would defund Planned Parenthood operations across the state after a federal appeals court on Tuesday upheld the 2014 vote in favor of Amendment 1, a ballot measure that stripped the right to an abortion from the Tennessee constitution.

By Tyler Whetstone

An East Tennessee lawmaker has started drafting legislation that would defund Planned Parenthood operations across the state after a federal appeals court on Tuesday upheld the 2014 vote in favor of Amendment 1, a ballot measure that stripped the right to an abortion from the Tennessee constitution.

Rep. Jimmy Matlock, R-Lenoir City, issued a news release calling for the defunding Tuesday night.

"A false narrative exists in Tennessee that Planned Parenthood doesn't receive Tennessee taxpayer dollars. Media and professional politicians from both sides of the aisle have reinforced this false narrative time and time again to protect their funding," he said. "It is beyond time for Tennessee leaders to show integrity and honesty by putting this to bed once and for all."

In 2011 state lawmakers voted to divert state funding from Planned Parenthood to the state Department of Health.

Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers in Tennessee have not received these funds, so-called Title X funds, since lawmakers voted to divert them in 2011.

Matlock claimed, however, that between 2011-15 Planned Parenthood of Tennessee received nearly $11,000 from the state.

The issue revolves around the fact that Planned Parenthood provides abortions. Though federal funds -- including Medicaid -- don't pay for abortions, and haven't since 1976, some organizations oppose allowing federal (or state) dollars to go to family-planning organizations that also provide abortion services.

Matlock said he doesn't expect any opposition to the legislation.

"I know my Republican colleagues will stand by me and finally codify, once and for all, that Planned Parenthood can receive no taxpayer dollars," he said. "In addition, because Planned Parenthood and their allies on the left push a narrative that they don't receive taxpayer dollars to begin with, they shouldn't have a single bit of opposition to the legislation either."

But in a Wednesday afternoon news conference, Democrats said such a proposed measure would be redundant given the 2011 legislation and would send a negative message to those who support women's rights issues.

Democrats from the House and Senate argued the bill didn't advance the Republican majority's goals.

Sen. Sara Kyle, D-Memphis, said the bill could be a deterrent to more businesses coming to the state, and Rep. Brenda Gilmore, D-Nashville, said it could result in more abortions as women had less access to contraceptives.

"If we're serious about reducing abortions, then our colleagues across the aisle would be willing to join with us to make family planning more available," Gilmore said. "This legislation was announced with no plans for the central health care services for women. It's a political game with political consequences."

Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville, said the Republicans are acting like "a one-trick pony on their third trick," in reference to the 2011 legislation.

"If they actually cared about this issue, they would know that when women have access to health care, you actually see fewer abortions," he said.

In a statement to the USA TODAY NETWORK -- Tennessee, Keri Adams, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Middle & East Tennessee, said Matlock's use of the word "defund" shows his lack of understanding about how the health care system works. She said the bill would have a "devastating impact" on the people who rely on Planned Parenthood.

"Planned Parenthood receives reimbursement, just like hospitals and other health care organizations, for providing preventive care services including birth control, breast exams, cancer screenings, and STD testing and treatment.

"This bill is simply an attack against women," she continued. "It would prohibit women from accessing preventive care at Planned Parenthood health centers and take away a person's ability to see the qualified health care provider of their choice for these sensitive services."

Amendment 1 passed with the support of 53 percent of voters in November 2014. It added language to the state constitution that said, in part: "Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion."

A recount of the 2014 vote opened a path for lawmakers to enact stricter abortion regulations, including a 48-hour waiting period for women seeking the procedure, which was signed into law by the governor in 2015.

The challenge to the Amendment 1 vote count loomed over state policymakers for three years, making the future of abortion measures enacted by the legislature after its passage uncertain.

Matlock is running for the soon to be expired congressional seat held by U.S. Rep. John J. "Jimmy" Duncan. Other Republican opponents include Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett, Jason Emert and Vito Sagliano. Democrats Joshua Williams and Renee Hoyos are also running.

Jordan Buie contributed to this report.

(c)2018 the Knoxville News-Sentinel (Knoxville, Tenn.)

Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's senior web editor.
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