Tennessee GOP Apparently Willing To Sacrifice Millions Of Taxpayer Dollars, Citizen’s Health To Spite Planned Parenthood

Tennessee Republicans have turned down approximately $8 million dollars in annual federal grant money for HIV prevention — apparently because the lives of Tennessee citizens are less important to Republican lawmakers than punishing Planned Parenthood.

The federal grant money was not for just Planned Parenthood. The grant money primarily went to local Tennessee HIV prevention efforts. As the Times Free Press wrote:

One of those grants allocates between $5.9 million and $6.5 million annually to Tennessee and was distributed to organizations such as Cempa, according to a CDC outline of grant recipients. The other was launched under the Trump administration and allocated roughly $2.1 million annually to Shelby County, a hot spot for new HIV infections. — Times Free Press

The problem also was NOT because of what Planned Parenthood was doing with the funding in Tennessee. They were distributing free condoms and providing HIV testing as part of a HIV prevention program.

It’s simply because Planned Parenthood has advocated for abortion access, and Tennessee Republicans were unable to kick Planned Parenthood out of the HIV prevention program for having a position on a different healthcare issue.

As the AP put it:

Planned Parenthood has partnered with Tennessee’s Department of Health to provide HIV testing since 2008, when Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen was in office. Four years later, under then Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration, the health agency attempted to remove Planned Parenthood from the program — a move that was ultimately challenged in court. A district court later found that the department had targeted Planned Parenthood “based upon their First Amendment activity for advocating abortion” and issued a permanent injunction preventing the state from dissolving any partnership with the organization because of their abortion care advocacy. That injunction is still in place. — AP

So now that the elections are over, the Tennessee GOP has decided to act like a spoiled petulant child and refuse those federal funds entirely. While Tennessee officials are hinting that those funds will be replaced by the state…

During his walkthrough for his second term inauguration outside the Capitol on Friday, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee was asked about the decision to forgo CDC funds for HIV. "We think we can do that better than the strings attached with the federal dollars," he said. He did not say where the resources for the state to take over the services would come from.Times Free Press. (emphasis mine)

… that would mean that state taxpayers have to pay a second time with state funds for services their federal tax dollars could — and should — have already paid for.

But even saying that the state will pick up the tab is not a sure bet, as the governor’s priorities are out of line with what would actually be effective in preventing HIV’s spread:

Gov. Lee said last week some nonprofit organizations will receive money from the state to provide HIV services, but he also said those will target human trafficking, first responders, and pregnant women, which aren’t considered the most likely groups to get HIV. — Tennessee Lookout

Aside from the literal cost to Tennessee taxpayers for having to pay extra for services their tax dollars already paid for, there’s a very real and additional cost in lives. According to the CDC, there are over 20,000 people living with HIV in the state, and 14% of Tennesseans with HIV are unaware of their status.

But these Republicans are willing to waste taxpayer dollars and sacrifice the lives of their citizens as collateral damage just so they can punish Planned Parenthood for its politics.

Keep that in mind as you read about the over 200 anti-LGBTQIA+ bills that Republicans have introduced this year — because Republicans have made it clear what they value, and they clearly do not care how many of their constituents end up being collateral damage.

Additional bonus back-of-the-cereal-box "game" for you: See if you can match the headline with whether the source is a national one or a publication based out of Tennessee! HINT: It’s different than all the others.

Draw your own conclusions about that.

Featured Image from Flickr user EnsignBeedrill under a CC-BY-ND-NC license.