Shelby Co. Commission approves funding for Planned Parenthood

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Shelby County Commission passed a proposal to provide Planned Parenthood $115,000 to distribute condoms.

Planned Parenthood supporters and employees packed the meeting Monday as the debate raised tensions among supporters and opposers.

The money is part of more than $400,000 in grant funds that commissioners are considering to provide HIV prevention services.

Though Planned Parenthood and Shelby County signed a contract for the funds in December, Commissioner Terry Roland said the county administration should not have sent Planned Parenthood the contract without proper administration approval.

Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell called the meeting one of the more contentious ones in recent history.

Ultimately, the commission voted 7-5 to award the money. The Free Condoms Memphis program has been in place since 2013 but recently encountered challenges by a number of commissioners who said the Shelby County Health Department could provide the services instead of Planned Parenthood.

Planned Parenthood and its supporters said the change came because of national political attention.

"This funding has nothing to do with abortions," said County Commissioner Van Turner, who voted in favor of the proposal.

Commissioner Steve Basar said the issue is the hardest vote he's had to make.

Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell told commissioners he believed that the county health department could offer the services at less cost. But he said he was advised by both the Tennessee Department of Health and the Tennessee Attorney General that the county could be opening itself up to legal challenges if it backed out of the contract, as well as the risk of losing more than $400,000 in funds to fight HIV infections in Shelby County.

Planned Parenthood previously threatened to sue the county if they did not make good on the previously-signed contract.

Some commissioners were angry the county administration's purchasing department entered into the grant contract last fall, despite knowing that the proposal would need county commission approval.

Planned Parenthood said it would sue the county if commissioners did not approve the $115,000 contract. Of that money, $75,000 goes to purchase the condoms and the rest of the funds are used for marketing and promotions of the program.

It appears likely that county commissioners voting in the minority will work in the months to come to figure out how the Shelby County Health Department can administer a similar program.

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