Director of Community Affairs
Published: 03.14.13| Updated: 03.14.13
Director of Community Affairs
MEMPHIS, TN - Marking a major victory for 14,000 Tennesseans, a U.S. District Court judge has issued a final judgment that will prevent Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam’s administration from cutting off successful HIV and syphilis prevention programs at Planned Parenthood health centers in Tennessee.
“We are thrilled that the court has permanently stopped the State from impermissibly barring Planned Parenthood from providing critical disease prevention education and services,” said Barry Chase, Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region CEO. “Politics should never interfere with Tennesseans’ access to critical medical services.”
In December 2011, Tennessee singled out and refused to approve Planned Parenthood’s contracts for the HIV and syphilis prevention programs, which they had participated in for years with positive evaluations. The funds were awarded through a competitive bidding process and then disallowed without any justification just days before they would begin.
The decision to bar Planned Parenthood from these programs came at a time when HIV prevention should remain a top priority in Tennessee, where new infections among 15 to 24 year olds have more than doubled in the past five years. Similarly, syphilis, which often has no symptoms, or such mild symptoms that a person doesn’t notice them, can be a serious health risk if not treated promptly. One out of three people who have syphilis that is not treated suffer serious damage to the nervous system, heart, brain or other organs, and death may result.
As evidenced by 10 years of positive reviews and annual contract renewals, Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region (PPGMR) and Planned Parenthood Middle and East Tennessee (PPMET) have done an excellent job implementing STD prevention programs that have been an immense benefit to their communities.
For example, PPGMR was the first organization in Memphis to begin rapid testing for HIV, and its HIV “Master Trainers” train more new HIV testers every year than any other agency in the area. Following a June 2011 site visit, the Department of Health'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.”
Similarly, PPMET’s Education and Training department provides STD prevention education through relationships with more than 100 organizations, and is a primary source of training for professionals who educate youth on STD prevention and other issues.
In issuing a preliminary injunction in February 2011, the district court explained that the State’s “disapproval of Plaintiff’s grant awards [was] to penalize [Planned Parenthood] for the exercise of their constitutionally-protected right of affiliation with, and/or advocacy for access to abortion services” in violation of Planned Parenthood’s constitutional rights. It also found the Tennessee officials “acted with political motivation to defund Planned Parenthood from a federal grant program” in likely violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
The new ruling permanently bars Tennessee officials from disqualifying Planned Parenthood from performing this critical STD prevention work, including testing and education.
For more information about Planned Parenthood’s services in Memphis, log on to www.plannedparenthood.org/memphis.
Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region (PPGMR), founded in 1938, is an affiliate of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. PPGMR’s mission is to ensure broad public access to reproductive and related health care through clinic services, education, advocacy and community partnerships in serving 42 counties in West Tennessee, North Mississippi and East Arkansas.