Tennessee sues Biden administration, says HHS diverted health funds to Planned Parenthood

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Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti is suing the Biden administration in response to a federal decision to redirect millions of dollars of federal family planning funding toward Planned Parenthood in the state.

Skrmetti said in a Wednesday statement that the state was “suing to stop the federal government from playing politics with the health of Tennessee women.” 

“Just last year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services praised Tennessee’s Department of Health as ‘the only agency with the capacity, staff, and expertise to administer Title X funds with integrity and without a gap in services in the state,’” Skrmetti said in the statement. 

“This year, the federal government illegally diverted those funds to Planned Parenthood,” he said. 

“Our lawsuit is necessary to ensure that Tennessee can continue its 50-year track record of successfully providing these public health services to its neediest populations,” he said.

The lawsuit states that in “recent years” Tennessee had been receiving about $7 million in annual Title X funding from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Last year those funds allowed Tennessee to “serve over 40,000 needy patients” throughout the state. Title X is a Nixon-era federal family planning program.

HHS initially approved more funds to the state in October 2022, the suit says, but then rescinded its approval in March because of Tennessee’s abortion referral policies. 

The state had informed HHS that, following the 2022 repeal of Roe v. Wade, Tennessee law “would prohibit most abortions,” with Title X workers instead “offer[ing] counseling and referrals only for legal pregnancy terminations.” 

Though it initially indicated its approval, HHS subsequently threatened “to strip all of Tennessee’s Title X funding” because of its abortion policy, the suit says.

The state said it attempted a workaround by adopting a policy in which pregnant women were given “the opportunity to be provided information and counseling regarding all options that are legal in the state of Tennessee” but that HHS nevertheless “terminated Tennessee’s Title X grant.”

The state filed an appeal of that decision, but the suit says that by “mid-September 2023,” HHS had reportedly “already reallocated Tennessee’s Title X funds to a new recipient: Planned Parenthood, the leading provider of abortions nationwide.”

“HHS’ actions make clear that it has no intention of meaningfully considering Tennessee’s appeal or preserving HHS and Tennessee’s 50-year Title X partnership,” the lawsuit claims. 

“Rather, HHS apparently values sending a pro-abortion message more than providing vital family planning services to thousands of vulnerable women and families across Tennessee.”

HHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment from CNA. 

The suit asks the court to find HHS’ decision “unlawful and arbitrary and capricious” and that “Tennessee’s policies entitle it to continue to receive Title X funding.” It argues that the agency’s decision is unlawful on both statutory and constitutional grounds. 

Tennessee was among the U.S. states that had in place a “trigger law” banning abortion that went into effect with Roe’s repeal last year.

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