Tennessee: Call Gov. Bill Haslam ASAP

In 2009, pro-life leaders in the Tennessee Legislature took an important step towards cutting taxpayer funding for abortion providers and/or referrers like Planned Parenthood. The 2009 provision only allowed county, municipal, and local health departments to contract with outside providers if they were unable to provide a particular service.

Without a doubt, the 2009 amendment to a 1972 law governing the state’s Title X funding was not perfect. Accordingly, both pro-life legislators and the Tennessee Right to Life have kept completely defunding such groups on their “wish list.”

Overall, 2011 has been a good year for pro-life legislation in Tennessee. As Life News has reported, the legislature passed an amendment which would allow voters to decide whether or not abortion was a legal right. It should be noted that such a move was necessary due to a recent state Supreme Court ruling holding abortion to be such under state law.

Pro-life legislators successfully passed a bill extending the Unborn Victims of Violence Act protections to unborn children from the time of conception. In response to Planned Parenthood’s recent use of webcams to lead women in using RU 486 to abort their children, the Tennessee Legislature banned the practice in the state. Additionally, legislators passed a resolution honoring pregnancy centers that help women choose alternatives to abortion.

The most recent attempt to enact pro-life legislation in Tennessee has been seemingly less successful than its predecessors. This was not, however, due to a lack of support for pro-life legislation in the state. Neither was it because either chamber lacked the votes to wholly defund organizations in the vein of Planned Parenthood. Instead, confusion and controversy has been sparked by a seemingly unnoticed amendment slipped into the budget.

The Commercial Appeal reports that State Sen. Stacey Campfield’s amendment would ensure that all “federal money sent to Tennessee for family-planning services ‘shall be used fully’ by government-run health agencies and none ‘shall be paid to third-party providers or private organizations or entities.’”

After Sen. Campfield inserted his amendment, the budget, as amended, passed both the House and Senate. Unfortunately, no one removed the amendment which stated that “Section 78 [Campfield’s amendment] of this act shall not be construed to supersede applicable provisions of federal and state law.

The problem with the inclusion of this amendment is the fact that, as noted, the 2009 provision allowed health departments to contract third-party providers if they were unable to provide certain services. Since Campfield’s amendment was tacked onto the budget instead of the 1972 act, it appears that the Campfield amendment could not be used to prevent health departments from contracting with groups such as Planned Parenthood if they are unable to provide particular services.

The simple fact is that, due to an overlooked amendment, Planned Parenthood Tennessee stands to retain its approximately $1.2 million in funding—$747,900 in Memphis and $335,000 in Nashville. The legislature adjourned for the year almost immediately after passing the budget.

So, the question still remains, what can be done to fix this unfortunate oversight so that taxpayers are no longer on the hook for financially supporting anti-life groups like Planned Parenthood in Tennessee?

Fortunately, Gov. Bill Haslam has not yet signed the budget into law. This provides at least a few avenues by which to correct the issue. Sen. Campfield has asked the governor to utilize his constitutional line-item veto power to either strip the offending amendment or, if necessary, the entire Health Department budget. Of course, the second option would only be considered if, as some fear, it is determined to be unconstitutional to use a line-item veto for this purpose.

For his part, Gov. Haslam has said, “To me, obviously something went wrong in the legislative process, which they need to straighten up themselves. The legislature thought they passed one thing and then later found out they didn’t. Somewhere in there was a disconnect.” When asked if he would use the line-item veto option, the governor responded, “I don’t know. I didn’t even know about the situation until this morning and I haven’t even thought about the possibility of using a line item veto.”

To be certain, it should have never come down to the governor having to decide whether or not he has the authority to use a line-item veto in this situation. Even so, this could be the only way to solve the legislature’s oversight and ensure that life is protected in the state. The legislature will not be back in session until January 2012—unless the governor calls them back into special session in order to pass a budget without the Campfield amendment’s unfortunate counterpart.

Overall, both the governor and legislators have a number of ways in which to improve the sad state of affairs in which the state currently finds itself. None of them are, of course, ideal. The important point is that life must be protected—for that was certainly the intention of the legislators who passed the budget in the first place. The governor and pro-life legislators must have the fortitude to see this process through to the end—just as they did previously with a number of pro-life bills.

We must encourage our friends in Tennessee to demand that their lawmakers block Planned Parenthood from receiving taxpayer dollars!

Please take a moment to call Governor Haslam at 615-741-2001.   

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