Shelby County commissioners delay vote on family planning

(WMC-TV) - Some said Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell's efforts to replace Planned Parenthood with Christ Community Health Services is a backdoor anti-abortion initiative.

In a tense debate Wednesday, Republican commissioners pointed out that Christ Community scored highest in the county administration's evaluation.  One Democrat called it political.

"Some of our commissioners want to push this thing forward and it has nothing to do with the merits or process," said Shelby County Commission Chairman Sidney Chism.  "It has something to do with their political ideologies."

Democrats on the commission proposed a deferral to get more information about the criteria the county used to choose Christ Community.  Republicans argued the county might be forced to take over family planning, which is more costly than contracting it out, if they did not vote now.

The Democratic-dominated commission voted in favor of the delay.  Christ Community Health Services said it was not a problem.

"I have to be honest, there was a discussion about are we going to find ourselves involved in a debate that is far beyond what we do," said Christ Community Health Services CEO Burt Waller.

Planned Parenthood said the county never told them they had to meet specific criteria to renew the contract.

"At no point in the request for proposals, or even at a later day, were we informed what the standards were," said Memphis Planned Parenthood President Barry Chase.

The law requires the county's family planning agency to inform pregnant women abortion is an option, and to offer emergency contraception like the morning after pill.

Christ Community Health Services said they would follow the law.

Commissioners will do more research and revisit the item October 12.

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