Planned Parenthood threatens to sue Shelby County over funds

Planned Parenthood supporters, many wearing pink, at Wednesday's meeting (Source: WMC Action News 5)
Planned Parenthood supporters, many wearing pink, at Wednesday's meeting (Source: WMC Action News 5)

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Wednesday, a condom controversy hit the Shelby County Commission, with $115,000 in funds for condom distribution from Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region at the center of it all as tempers flared on both sides.

The controversy has been weeks in the making. Planned Parenthood officials said if the county doesn't make good on its deal soon, they will sue in federal court.

High tension came Wednesday as Shelby County Commissioners refused to add the Planned Parenthood contract to the agenda, getting four no votes, enough to keep it off the agenda for Wednesday's committee meeting. The dozens decked in pink in the crowd were visibly upset.

"It had seven yes votes!" one woman yelled.

Planned Parenthood is just one part, $115,000 worth, of almost $450,000 in funds commissioners are considering to provide HIV prevention services.

Shelby County has the highest number of newly-diagnosed HIV cases in Tennessee, along with the highest new cases of chlamydia.

Planned Parenthood said it's provided condoms since 2013 through this program, and the county sent a contract in December, which they signed. The group believes the current national political tension is affecting the decision.

A letter from the Tennessee Department of Health dated January 27, 2017, advises Shelby County government to execute the contract, saying it is "in direct violation" of the obligation of the gr ant contract and could be found in violation of a federal court order, which prohibits "extraneous considerations."

"It is politicians putting politics before our community's health," said Ashley Coffield, President & CEO of Planned Parenthood, Greater Memphis Region.

Perhaps fanning the flames, a social media post from commissioner Terry Roland, saying he cares about the spread of STDs but calling Planned Parenthood "baby killers."

"I'm a counter puncher, OK? They hit me first," Roland said.

Roland said county administration shouldn't have sent Planned Parenthood a contract without getting commission approval first.

"All of this went on before we even had a chance to vote on it," said Roland.

Meanwhile, Coffield and her group say they'll be back on Monday trying to get the item added to the agenda.

"I think the language that's been used is inflammatory. I think it's dangerous. I think it actually endangers our employees and puts our organization at risk, and I wish our commissioners would focus more on community health and less on abortion," she said.

Commissioners would have to vote to add the item to Monday's general meeting agenda, and then they could vote on the proposal. A large crowd is expected.

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