Hamilton County commissioners today will consider whether to approve funds for a family planning program at the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department, but it is uncertain they will bend to public outcry about the issue.
Earlier this month, commissioners nearly removed the bulk of funds from family planning over confusion about whether the health department provides the “abortion pill.” The health department does not provide any form of abortion, but commissioners became concerned when department Administrator Becky Barnes told commissioners the department dispenses the morning-after pill, a contraceptive.
After the vote, commissioners received numerous calls and emails about the issue. Six commissioners initially voted “no” on a grant that provided the bulk of the Health Department’s family planning funding, before reconsidering and tabling the vote until this week.
Barnes said Tuesday that she plans to give a presentation to commissioners today that will “present what family planning is.
“What does the family planning program provide? What does the family planning program not provide? And family planning service benefits to Hamilton County,” she said.
Commissioner Joe Graham, who initially voted “no,” said he looks forward to the presentation. He said he’s been consulting with local doctors and his constituents about the issue to better educate himself.
“I’m going in tomorrow with an open mind simply because I want to give her all the attention she deserves,” Graham said.
Commission Chairman Larry Henry, who initially voted in favor of the family planning program before changing his mind to vote against it, said he could not predict whether commissioners would restore funding. He said he personally plans to support the program.
Outside groups will be watching the vote closely. Chattanooga Organized for Action plans a rally this morning leading up to the vote. Organizer Chris Brooks said he expects a few dozen people to attend.
“We’re just making absolutely sure that they understand how important this is to the residents of Hamilton County that they allegedly represent,” he said.
Brooks said on the rally’s Facebook page that commissioners are not to be trusted.
“While county commissioners have been saying that they will be reversing last week’s outrageous decision to deny family planning funding, don’t EVER take a politician’s word at face value,” Brooks wrote on the Facebook page.
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 ...