published Thursday, May 5th, 2011

Hamilton County eyes blocking family planning funds


by Dan Whisenhunt
Audio clip

Hamilton County Commission

Thousands of women who get their birth control at the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department soon may find themselves with little or no access to the services if county commissioners cut off funding.

Commissioners voted 6-2 Wednesday to reject a $581,700 contract for family planning services through the health department. Later they reconsidered and voted to table the contract while they get more information.

Some commissioners cited two reasons for reduced funding to the department: the need to cut costs and fears that the health department is spending money it receives on abortions.

“I want to be sure we are not in any way using taxpayer dollars for abortions,” Commissioner Mitch McClure said after Wednesday’s commission meeting.

Health Department Administrator Becky Barnes told commissioners that no health department money is spent for abortions.

“We have absolutely nothing to do with abortions,” said Barnes, who said the department provides various forms of birth control, including condoms, injections and abstinence education.

“What we are trying to do is prevent abortions by providing contraception for women,” she said.

In the 6-2 vote, Republican Chairman Larry Henry and Democratic Commissioner Greg Beck voted to accept the grant, but Henry later changed his vote to no. Democratic Commissioner Warren Mackey was absent.

The commission has a 7-2 Republican majority; all of its members are men.

The body faces hard choices on health department funding. The looming expiration of a 45-year-old sales tax agreement with Chattanooga means the county stands to lose $10.5 million. County Mayor Jim Coppinger has said the department will face drastic cuts.

The sales-tax agreement, due to expire late this month, sets up the how the city and the county pay for jointly funded agencies like the health department

The commission’s first vote to reject the grant for family planning services came after a misunderstanding over terminology.

Before the first vote, McClure asked Barnes if the Health Department dispensed RU 486, sometimes called the “abortion pill.” It is used by prescription to terminate pregnancies in the first seven weeks after conception.

McClure referred to it “the morning-after pill,” and Barnes told him the morning-after pill is not the same as RU 486. The morning-after pill is another form of birth control and does not terminate pregnancy, she said. The department uses the morning-after pill but not RU 486, she said.

“We do not give the abortion pill,” Barnes told commissioners, who then voted to table the grant while seeking more information.

Jeff Teague, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Middle and East Tennessee, called the commission’s actions “shocking.”

“I think it’s kind of shocking they are willing to put the health of thousands of women in Hamilton County in jeopardy over their misunderstanding of what the morning-after pill is,” he said.

The commission’s concerns about the family planning program are recent.

Nearly 4,000 local women used the program in 2010, said Diana Kreider, program manager for the health department. It is funded from federal grants and includes a $40,000 local match.

Barnes and other health department officials said funding has been approved routinely without fanfare since the 1970s.

“I’ve never been asked these questions,” Barnes said.

Beck urged commissioners not to be swayed by “ideology.”’

McClure denied any such motive.

“My questioning and my negative vote has nothing to do with political ideology,” he said. “It has to do with my belief that every child is a human being ... at any point of conception.”

Commissioner Fred Skillern said he doesn’t want to vote for anything “controversial” in a tough budget year. Commissioner Joe Graham also had moral concerns about the program.

“I don’t believe God makes a mistake when he creates a baby,” Graham said.

After the meeting, Skillern joked that the issue likely would take attention away from a recent Chattanooga Times Free Press article about Henry. Some property owners in his district are in a dispute with the Tennessee Department of Transportation over the value of their property. Henry raised ethical questions by recommending his son’s law firm to them.

“Mr. Chairman, we may have got you off the front page today,” Skillern said, cracking the room up.

In other business, commissioners approved Leslie Longshore as Hamilton County’s new human resources director. Longshore currently works prosecuting child abuse cases in the Hamilton County District Attorney’s office. She replaces Rebecca Hunter, who left to take a job in Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration.

about Dan Whisenhunt...

Dan Whisenhunt covers Hamilton County government for the Times Free Press. A native of Mobile, Ala., Dan earned a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Alabama. He won first place for best in-depth news coverage in the 2010 Alabama Press Association contest; the FOI-First Amendment Award in the 2007 Alabama Press Association contest; first place for best public service story in the Alabama AP Managing Editors contest in 2009 for economic coverage; and ...

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jopeck said...

Bless you Commissioners McClure and Graham!

Yes, there is a difference between the 'morning after' pill and RU486, which actually terminates a pregnancy.. but what are we financially condoning here? Over 4000 local women last year came to the health dept -- for this alone, or for all women's services? The 'morning after' pill is not meant to be taken routinely...it's a large dose of oral contraceptive... plus it doesn't address the hazard of AIDS or STD's....but our wise and all knowing government, certainly the reason 'planned parenthood' still exists, has no business here.

It's difficult to make a reasonable judgement from a newspaper article alone, but I have a suggestion: why not make a visit to AAA Womens Services (Choices) on Vance Road and see what's working there? Surely others are horrified by the fact that over 50M babies have been aborted, not to mention to tragic toll each abortion takes on the mother. YES, we need to provide help to these ladies, and YES there is a better way that's working right here in Chattanooga. Are there 'strings attached' to this grant money that would prohibit implementation of an approach similar to that of a AAA/Choices program?

As for the previous comment about providing jobs...WHOA. Did you ever consider that programs like social security WORK because we have a base of population that is working to support the older population...and we've nearly eradicated that BASE via abortion? From a purely economic standpoint, this is suicide. How sad that jobs trump life.

I'm tired of being silent on this! What a JOY to hear that our commissioners are willing to take a moral stand. Perhaps there is hope after all.

May 5, 2011 at 7:17 a.m.
DanWhisenhunt said...

JoPeck, Just a point of clarification, nearly 4,000 women used the entire family planning program, according to Hamilton County officials. Morning after pill is just one of several services offered.

Hope this helps.

Dan Whisenhunt, Staff Writer

May 5, 2011 at 8:46 a.m.
hellonurse said...

This is a huge mistake and misstep in my book ... and obviously a misinformed one at that. I have personally shadowed at the family planning clinic - it should NOT be confused with planned parenthood ... (of course I could see how this could be confusing for some ... they both have 'plan' in the name. Should they dumb it down for some of you? How about women's health clinic?) This clinic helps those women in Hamilton County who otherwise would not have access to information, education and birth control. Those who are low income and need this help, as they are not financially stable enough to bring another mouth to feed into this world, who would ultimately be draining more tax payers money to raise its entire life.

So without this clinic, where should the women go? More than likely to an ER for a $3,000 work up after they have missed their cycle and don't know what else to do. Thank you, MALE REPUBLICAN commission. Not only have you not solved a problem, you have created a bigger one in my eyes. So stereotypical ...

Here's my idea - how about a furlough day for county employees to save money, rather than cutting more healthcare corners?

May 5, 2011 at 9:14 a.m.
Leaf said...

There should be an IQ test before a person can run for county council.

Since money is the only thing some people care about or understand, here's the purely monetary argument. Either spend 1/2 million on contraception, or 10 million for health services to carry unwanted children to term, while causing more abortions as well.

May 5, 2011 at 9:22 a.m.
mariebarbara said...

The Morning after pill sometimes called Plan B depends on where you are in your cycle whether it blocks conception or whether it prevents the zygote(union of sperm and egg) to successfully implant into the uterine wall and therefore the zygote cannot get nourishment and continue to grow. I agree with comments from JoPeck. Plan B is not meant to be taken routinely and this does not address STD etc. The failure rate of contraception for a variety of reasons should make one give pause and re examine this not to mention the financial issues involved. The definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over and expect different results.

May 5, 2011 at 9:29 a.m.
hellonurse said...

They don't have a vending machine filled with the Morning After pill, and i'm pretty sure that it is NOT what the majority of patients are seeking upon visiting the clinic.

I think it is a strategic move, a dumb one at that, to focus on the most controversial thing possible to make everyone go into an uproar and think they know what they're talking about when they say this clinic isn't needed ... but hey, looks like it's working with some of the less informed. Just because you can look up information on Google does not make you a healthcare provider ... it means you can copy and paste.

May 5, 2011 at 9:38 a.m.
jopeck said...

Dear hellonurse:

1) I'm thankful we live in a country where we can have differing opinions and debate issues, aren't you?

2) Caustic comments accomplish little. The opening line of the article was: "Thousands of women who get their birth control at the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department soon may find themselves with little or no access to the services if county commissioners cut off funding." Hence the question. Thank you Dan, for the clarification.

3) I realize this is a world of soundbite expertise...but if you read my entire post, you'd see that I certainly believe we need the health clinic..and suggested that alternative approaches which are proven to WORK might be incorporated in the 'family planning'... a way to lessen the number of unplanned pregnancies, perhaps? A way to provide children for many couples wanting to adopt children perhaps? that's why my comment about strings tied to funding...Just a thought...not insisting that anyone agree. If that's already being done, maybe there's a way that would bring better results?

Clearly you care about the health of women in Chattanooga, as do I. Is the GOAL is to address the symptom rather than the cause? Regardless, we agree the clinic is needed.

May 5, 2011 at 9:54 a.m.
hellonurse said...

My venom was more towards those involved doing the cutting, not the opinions of those who agree. If it was to be cut - that's fine. However while you're giving helpful options that might be explored, I have a feeling that they care not to explore them at all. They could care less. They only seem to care about the bottom line - saving money right. this. second. You make valid points and offer helpful suggestions. As for the commission? I dislike when people make rash decisions based on false information and prejudice against womens' rights.

May 5, 2011 at 10 a.m.
crow1033 said...

This is about access. the Hamilton County Health Department has provided this service for over 30 years to women who could not afford preventative and reproductive health care. As a state with one of the highest child mortality rates and 66% reduced lunch families, it is an invaluable service that would be catastrophic to local women. All women, rich and poor deserve to access family and reproductive health care. The attack on public education and health care are cowards tactics to oil a political power machine. Half the population of Hamilton County is under attack by this all male commission that refuses to do their job.... provide services to residents of Hamilton County! I hope that they plan on moving off that big pile of money in reserve to fund the emergency room, family and children's services, Chambliss shelter, WIC, welfare and all the agencies that deal with the extra children in the state of Tennessee that will be a consequence of this measure and the health problems that will result from a lack of preventative care. Let the voters deal with how our federal dollars are spent and concentrate on doing the job you were elected to do.... provide services within a balanced budget. This was a ridiculous move on the part of our Commissioners...shame on you!

May 5, 2011 at 12:43 p.m.

We people darker than blue do not care about nor utilize The White Devil's contraceptives...

May 5, 2011 at 2:08 p.m.
potcat said...

Its official, the Commissioners have the IQ's of a rat!

May 5, 2011 at 2:13 p.m.
hellonurse said...

Well, Muhammad, since the clinic caters to womens' needs, this white devil cares not a bit about your opinion! Once you magically sprout lady bits, then we'll talk! You sound as ignorant as the commission ...

May 5, 2011 at 3:26 p.m.
grandmastaj said...

L4F, you are a despicable person. Let's just go back to burning women as witches because they have a brain. Why? Because they're more intelligent than you and your nasty comments. Typical TeaBagger.

May 5, 2011 at 3:45 p.m.
chrisbrooks said...

Its not too late to reverse this decision.

HERE’S HOW YOU CAN HELP!

Attend the Rally to Support Family Planning. The new vote to accept or deny the family planning funding will be:

May 18th
9:00 AM - 12:00 PM
Hamilton County Commission
625 Georgia Ave # 401

BRING SIGNS! MAKE SHIRTS! PREPARE SPEECHES! BRING A FRIEND!

Join the Facebook group here: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=122000264545669

Contact your County Commissioners!

A call, even a voicemail, is better than an e-mail! Commissioners need to receive so many calls about this vote that they will seriously reconsider their actions.

FIND YOUR COUNTY DISTRICT HERE: http://www.hamiltontn.gov/commission/District%20Map.aspx

Please contact your County Commissioner:

Phone Numbers: http://www.hamiltontn.gov/commission/

District 1 Commissioner Fred Skillern (423)332-3143 District1@HamiltonTN.Gov

District 2 Commissioner

Jim Fields (423)886-5760 (423)260-1674 District2@HamiltonTN.Gov

District 3 Commissioner

Mitch McClure (423) 290-5498 (423) 209-7200 District3@HamiltonTN.Gov

District 4 Commissioner

Warren Mackey (423)892-8410 (423) 209-7200 District4@HamiltonTN.Gov

District 5 Commissioner

Greg Beck (423)698-4104 (423)209-7200 District5@HamiltonTN.Gov

District 6 Commissioner

Joe Graham (423) 821-6834 (423) 209-7200 District6@HamiltonTN.Gov

District 7 Commissioner

Larry Henry (423) 894-6269 (423)209-7200 District7@HamiltonTN.Gov

District 8 Commissioner

Tim Boyd (423) 987-8072 (423)209-7200 District8@HamiltonTN.Gov

District 9 Commissioner

Chester Bankston (423)209-7200 District9@HamiltonTN.Gov

Lastly…SPREAD THE WORD! Repost and share this with as many people as you can!

May 5, 2011 at 5:13 p.m.
librul said...

A product of preachers in government. When will people ever learn?

May 5, 2011 at 7:42 p.m.
AnneMahon said...

It never fails to suprise me that while men can insist that they have Viagra covered by their private corporate healthcare plans at the expense of all the other policy holders, pap smears for women who fear cancer are an outrage to them. It's one thing to hate women, it's entirely different to create rules that prevent them from getting much needed affordable healthcare and I am disgusted. Please women, let us rise up and say NO to these men - not just for this, but when election time comes again. We shall NOT forget!

May 5, 2011 at 9:16 p.m.
chet123 said...

republicans all male voting....women i fault you...since you have the majority voting power in this county...you let "bone-head" men vote on women matter without consequences...come on girls..this shouldnt even be a republican vs democrat issue.. ladies if this issue was the reverse..where all female blocked a male need..the female would be tar and feathered..stop behaving helpless

May 13, 2011 at 9:06 a.m.
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