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Federal Judge: Planned Parenthood of Tennessee Can Continue HIV-Prevention Work

Jessica Mason Pieklo

Another federal court rules that conservatives can't defund Planned Parenthood because it provides abortion care.

Republican efforts to prevent Planned Parenthood of Tennessee from participating in HIV- and syphilis-prevention programs hit a wall recently as a federal judge in Nashville issued a permanent injunction, blocking the defunding law.

The Tennessee law is similar to many other efforts by conservatives around the country to defund Planned Parenthood. Though Planned Parenthood has participated in HIV and syphilis programs for years, successfully and without issue, in December 2011 Tennessee legislators singled out and refused to approve Planned Parenthood’s contracts for those programs moving forward. They did so based on the claim that any money going to Planned Parenthood for any reason funds abortion care in some fashion. Planned Parenthood challenged the action, and in February 2012 a federal district court issued a preliminary injunction that allowed Planned Parenthood to continue its sexually transmitted disease prevention work, ruling that terminating the contracts because of Planned Parenthood’s association with abortion services was likely unconstitutional.

This new ruling, which came last week, affirms the earlier injunction and permanently bars Tennessee officials from disqualifying Planned Parenthood from receiving funding on the basis that the funding goes indirectly to abortion care.

Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, praised the decision in an email statement: “This court ruling means politicians will not be allowed to interfere with people’s access to the critical preventive care that Planned Parenthood health centers provide. This is a victory for the Tennesseans who count on Planned Parenthood for preventive health services and education and should be a warning to legislators in Arkansas and beyond: cutting public funding for Planned Parenthood’s services will not stand. Politicians have no business dictating where women, men, or teens can go for their health care. They should have access to the providers they trust for lifesaving disease testing and education.”

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The fight for comprehensive sexual health programs is far from over, but this latest decision should send a message that ideology cannot trump common sense public-health policy. Too bad the individuals who need to hear that message most clearly aren’t listening.

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Reproductive rights are a public health issue. That's a fact.

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