Why partisanship is a direct threat to Planned Parenthood and health
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Last week, the Shelby County Board of Commissioners chose people over politics by voting to renew a grant to Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region for a free condom distribution program.

The measure, which passed by Democratic majority vote, had been delayed since January, despite the fact that previous County Boards had bestowed the grant to Planned Parenthood with no objection since 2013.

So why would my Republican colleagues attempt to thwart efforts to fight the spread of HIV/AIDS in Memphis?

The short answer is partisan politics.

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Some county commissioners have recently opposed any funding to Planned Parenthood because the organization provides safe and legal abortion services. But let us be frank; withholding a grant for a condom distribution program aimed at reducing HIV rates has nothing to do with anyone’s personal views on abortion.

 

It does have everything to do with undermining a successful public health program just to attack Planned Parenthood, and  gambles with the lives of Memphians.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have asserted that Condom Distribution Programs have been proven to increase condom use, prevent HIV/STDs, and save taxpayer dollars by preventing HIV infections in the first place.

Planned Parenthood sits in the heart of Memphis and serves all of Shelby County’s community members. Its approach to HIV/AIDS prevention is community based and includes distributing condoms at barber shops and nail salons in southeast Memphis, and other culturally important spaces that are important for sharing information. Their model for increasing HIV awareness centers on direct outreach and engagement, no matter who people are, where they live or who they love.

Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region also partners with community groups and LGBTQ organizations like OUT Memphis. They work with Hope House, a nonprofit organization for children infected or affected by HIV/AIDS and their families. PPGMR continues to build relationships within many communities and has grown a network of more than 100 partners distributing 50,000 condoms every month. Over the life of the program, 1.7 million condoms and other safer sex supplies have reached those who need them most.

Attempts to block health providers who provide safe and legal abortion from providing other health care services and information in their communities — even when the issue at hand has nothing to do with abortion — fall in line with an extreme conservative agenda to dismantle women’s reproductive rights and destroy the public health safety nets on which so many Americans rely. These dangerous political games have dire consequences.

After Indiana forced Planned Parenthood’s health center in Scott County to shut its doors in 2013, the community was left with nowhere to turn for HIV testing and education. Two years later the county faced an unprecedented HIV outbreak, which Governor Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceSimon & Schuster CEO Jonathan Karp defends Pence book deal: report Gohmert says Jan. 6 mob attack on Capitol not an 'armed insurrection' House Democrats unveil .9 billion bill to boost security after insurrection MORE deemed an “epidemic” -- and which experts said could have been prevented but was instead worsened because the state had not adequately invested in public health.

Outside of the U.S., the  global gag rule, recently reinstated and expanded by President Trump via executive order, prohibits international organizations from receiving U.S. global health assistance if they provide, counsel, refer or even advocate for abortion services — even if they do so with their own, non-U.S. funds and even if abortion is legal in their own country. 

This arbitrary and harmful policy has now put over $9 billion of vital health programs potentially at risk, including programs anchoring the decades-long effort to eradicate HIV/AIDS, as well as the more recent Ebola and Zika outbreaks.

When access to HIV prevention falls casualty to politically motivated attempts to “defund” Planned Parenthood, real people suffer.

In our own country, HIV/AIDS continues to disproportionately affect the lives of people who already face systemic barriers to health care, including Black women, Latinas, transgender people, gay and bisexual men, young people of all backgrounds, and those who live in rural areas across the South, with Shelby County as no exception.

The vote down party lines by Republican commissioners (who represent largely suburban districts within the county) sent a clear message to many Memphians that their lives and their healthcare are expendable. Whether that was the intended consequence, their willingness to condemn more people in the community to potential HIV infection to score political points is reprehensible.

What gave me hope last week was the support and solidarity shown across race, class, sexuality and gender for access to preventive health care services

Local advocates and residents who count themselves as Planned Parenthood supporters, including representatives from Latino Memphis, Sister Reach, and Black Lives Matter Memphis, packed the auditorium as I’ve never seen before. Faith leaders and people living with HIV/AIDS made their voices heard and expressed over and over that we would not go backwards when it comes to getting people the care they need to stay healthy.

The community stood in solidarity and defied a divisive national climate to say yes to humanity. In the resounding words of Martin Luther King, Jr., we affirmed that “of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and the most inhuman.”

The spark ignited here in Tennessee should serve as a flashpoint for the progressive movement and its believers around the country.  It will be the victories in our townhalls and statehouses that remind those in Washington that America is already great.

And together, we make it even greater.

Van Turner is an attorney with Bruce Turner, PLLC, and volunteer board member of Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region. He is serving his first term on the Shelby County Board of Commissioners in Memphis, Tennessee.


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