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Tennessee sues federal government over family planning funding

From the Tennessean: Tennessee this week sued the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which pulled millions in family planning funding after

From the Tennessean: Tennessee this week sued the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which pulled millions in family planning funding after the state violated federal requirements for clinics to counsel clients on all reproductive health options, including abortion.


Tennessee blocked clinics from counseling patients on medical options that aren’t legal in the state, which has one of the strictest anti-abortion laws in the country.


In the complaint filed in federal court in Knoxville, Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti argues HHS rules about Title X requirements have flip-flopped in recent years and that the HHS requirement violates Tennesseans’ “First Amendment rights not to engage in speech or conduct that facilitates abortions.”


Title X funding has never covered abortion procedures. Tennessee had previously received more than $7 million to fund birth control, family planning and basic infertility treatments, among other services.


After Tennessee failed its Title X certification this spring, HHS crafted a workaround to funnel a $3.9 million grant to Planned Parenthood and a $3.9 million grant to Mississippi-based reproductive health care clinic Converge. The funds are earmarked for family planning services for low-income residents and directly bypass the state health department, which previously distributed the grants.


Skrmetti accused the federal government of “playing politics with the health of Tennessee women.”


Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti talks with a group of people after speaking about the impact of social media has on children and families during a town hall meeting on Thursday, March 2, 2023, in Clarksville, Tenn.

“Just last year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services praised Tennessee’s Department of Health as ‘the only agency with the capacity, staff, and expertise to administer Title X funds with integrity and without a gap in services in the state,'” Skrmetti said. “This year, the federal government illegally diverted those funds to Planned Parenthood.  Our lawsuit is necessary to ensure that Tennessee can continue its 50-year track record of successfully providing these public health services to its neediest populations.”


Ashley Coffield, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi, said Title X funding is “an important part” of providing Tennesseans affordable sexual and reproductive health care.


She said Wednesday that the organization is “thrilled once again to be a part of delivering these services to the people of Tennessee — particularly in light of the state’s ongoing assault on sexual and reproductive health.”


The current Title X debate is not the state’s first funding fight over its ideological battle with Planned Parenthood.


In January, Tennessee announced it would cut funding for HIV prevention, detection and treatment programs that are not affiliated with metro health departments, rejecting more than $4 million in federal HIV prevention funds.


Tennessee said it could make up the lost fund with state dollars, but advocates decried the move and its potential impact on vulnerable communities as the state remains an HIV-transmission hotspot. The Commercial Appeal later confirmed Tennessee gave up funding after it tried and failed to cut out Planned Parenthood from the HIV prevention grant program.


Skrmetti has asked a federal judge to rule HHS’ Title X decision unlawful and award Tennessee its grant funding directly.


The Associated Press contributed to this report.