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Planned Parenthood Sues Tennessee

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (CN) - Planned Parenthood claims Tennessee killed nearly $150,000 in funding for venereal disease prevention programs to punish it for its "association with" and "advocacy for access to abortion services."

Planned Parenthood claims that the state senator who pushed the cuts through, Stacey Campfield, gloated about it by saying: "We had to kiss a lot of ugly girls at the prom, but we took the pretty one home ... [W]e got what I was looking for, which was defunding Planned Parenthood."

Planned Parenthood of Greater Memphis and of Middle and East Tennessee sued Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner, in Federal Court.

Planned Parenthood claims Tennessee's unconstitutional retaliation "will imminently and irreparably harm plaintiffs and thousands of Tennessee women, men and teens who rely on them for education and testing to prevent contracting and transmitting life-threatening HIV and syphilis infections."

The plaintiffs provide reproductive health services and have participated in HIV-prevention programs funded by the Centers for Disease Control for more than a decade, according to the complaint. Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region was selected to receive federal funding for Tennessee's syphilis elimination program in 2011 and 2012.

"Despite having a proven track record in these programs and having been selected to receive these funds for the 2012 calendar year through a competitive bidding process, plaintiffs were informed approximately one month ago that TDOH [Tennessee Department of Health] was 'unable to approve' them for this funding," the complaint states.

"On information and belief, plaintiffs are the only service providers selected to participate in these programs that were not approved; TDOH took this action without actually substantively reviewing plaintiffs' or any other grant proposals; and TDOH's decision was motivated solely by animus toward their constitutionally protected, privately funded activities - specifically, that plaintiffs provide, associate with, and/or advocate for access to abortion, even though plaintiffs conduct these activities outside of any state or federal program. Moreover, the defendant has impermissibly singled out plaintiffs among similarly situated service providers for disparate treatment."

Planned Parenthood says its sexually transmitted disease-prevention programs get federal funding, but the state has final approval over all grants.

"PPGMR has historically been one of eight grantees for the Southwest Tennessee region and has been awarded HIV prevention funding for more than ten consecutive years," the complaint states. "These grant funds have been used to provide group- and individual-level education and counseling, HIV testing, and professional development for local community-based organizations, such as peer educator training for high school and college students. In 2011, PPGMR received $70,000 in CDC-funded HIV prevention funds. With those funds, it tested more than 3,800 individuals for HIV at five locations, offering business- and after-hours services. The same year, it provided HIV prevention services at thirteen locations to nearly 8,000 individuals, and offered professional development at fifteen locations.

"Between 2007 and 2011, PPGMR was evaluated at least four times during site visits by officials from TDOH with respect to its participation in the HIV prevention program. In follow-up letters sent after these visits, TDOH officials stated that they did not have any formal recommendations for improvement. Following a June 2011 site visit, TDOH's HIV Prevention Testing Program director commended PPGMR's 'dedication to HIV prevention and the community' and stated that he 'look[ed] forward to working with Planned Parenthood in the future.'


"PPMET has participated in TDOH's HIV prevention program, through contracts with UW Nashville, since 1997. PPMET historically has been one of three grantees for the Middle Tennessee region. It has used these funds to provide: educational workshops in community-based settings, the local juvenile detention center, and the local teen shelter; outreach at health fairs, concerts, and other venues attended by teens; and peer education efforts. PPMET tailors its education efforts to at-risk communities, particularly to the high-risk youth community. This is particularly important because new HIV infections among 15 to 24 year olds in Tennessee have more than doubled in the past five years. For 2011, PPMET won $41,500 in funds based on a proposal to serve 1,250 people; it actually served more than 2,300 people with those funds." (Brackets in complaint).

Planned Parenthood applied last year for grants to continue the programs in 2012 and was approved in August. But, Planned Parenthood says, in December the state told it that Tennessee was "unable to approve Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region as a subcontractor."

The state also "indicated that Planned Parenthood would not be approved for other grant funding for which it might apply in the future."

The two plaintiff groups say they were the only grantees excluded from the programs in 2012.

"In correspondence with PPGMR, a TDOH official stated that '[a]ll other contracts for HIV prevention were allowed to continue across the state, except for the two Planned Parenthood subcontractors,' and observed, 'I do not believe that experience and skill factored into the decision, as this information was not included as part of the contract that was sent for [C]ommissioner approval,'" the complaint states.

Planned Parenthood says that the state, which failed to provide a reason for denying the grants, acted under pressure from abortion opponents.

"Although TDOH has not offered an explanation for the termination of these funds, in 2011 numerous elected officials in Tennessee expressed their desire to eliminate non-abortion funding to Planned Parenthood due to its performance of, advocacy for, access to, and/or association with abortion," the complaint states. "In May 2011, an amendment to an appropriations bill (Section 78 to HB 2139) was offered by {state} Senator Stacey Campfield that attempted to limit use of federal family-planning funds (from the 'Title X' program) to government health agencies and exclude third-party providers or private organizations like Planned Parenthood. Upon passage of the budget bill for fiscal year 2012, Senator Campfield declared victory against Planned Parenthood, stating: 'We had to kiss a lot of ugly girls at the prom, but we took the pretty one home... [W]e got what I was looking for, which was defunding Planned Parenthood. ...' However, due to a later amendment in the same bill, government agencies were permitted to subcontract their Title X funds to private entities.

"Tennessee is not alone in this effort. The defunding of PPGMR and PPMET occurs in the context of a national campaign to defund Planned Parenthood due to its association with and/or provision of abortion services. On Feb. 17, 2011, United States Representative Mike Pence proposed a rider to a federal appropriations bill that singled out Planned Parenthood and would have barred it and 102 putative affiliates from receiving federal funds for any purpose. Representative Pence argued this was necessary because Planned Parenthood 'provide[s] and promote[s] abortion.'" (Parentheses, brackets and ellipses, but not braces, in complaint).

Kansas, Indiana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin have tried to cut Planned Parenthood funding for the same reason, according to the complaint.

"Based on this history and the excellent track records of both PPGMR and PPMET in the HIV prevention program, it is obvious that defendant's decision to deny plaintiffs federal grant funding for STD testing and prevention services was motivated not by any substantive concern with plaintiffs' ability to perform program services, but rather, on information and belief, because of Planned Parenthood's association with, advocacy for, access to and/or provision of abortion services."

Planned Parenthood says it never used STD-prevention money for abortion services or other services not included in its contracts with the state.

It adds: "As a result of the loss of these funds plaintiffs will be required to cut back on certain HIV and syphilis treatment, prevention, and education programs, and to eliminate others altogether. In some cases, plaintiffs will be forced to begin charging patients for certain programs and services, which will necessarily decrease the availability of such programs and services to low-income patients and the community. Plaintiff PPMET may also have to restructure program staffing and potentially cut one or more positions."

Planned Parenthood claims the state retaliated to punish it for exercising its constitutional rights. It wants the cuts enjoined.

It is represented by Charles Grant with Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, of Nashville.

Campfield, R-Knoxville, also made news in Tennessee this month by claiming that insurance companies charge homosexuals higher rates because "it's not a healthy lifestyle." He made news in January by claiming that it is "virtually impossible" to get AIDS or the HIV virus through heterosexual contact.

Campfield's statements aroused such wide notice that a Knoxville restaurant owner booted him out of her restaurant recently. NBC news reported that the furor, and the invitation to leave the restaurant, came after Campfield told a radio program "that the HIV epidemic came from a single gay airline employee having sexual relations with a monkey and that it is 'virtually impossible' for AIDS to be transmitted during heterosexual sex."

The restaurant owner told NBC: "I asked him to leave the restaurant to take a stand for the gay community and to let him know what it feels like to be discriminated against."

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