Tag Archives: Parenthood

TN judge rules on parental rights in same-sex divorce case

In the first ruling of its kind in Tennessee, a Knox County judge on Friday decided that the same-sex spouse of a woman giving birth to a child by artificial insemination has no legal rights or obligations to the baby after a divorce.

Further from the News-Sentinel:

“I believe this is a situation where (Erica Witt) has no biological relationship with this child, has no contractual relationship with this child,” 4th Circuit Court Judge Greg McMillan ruled.

Erica Witt and Sabrina Witt legally wed in Washington, D.C., in April 2014, bought a home in Knoxville and decided to have a child via artificial insemination from an anonymous donor. Sabrina Witt bore a baby girl as a result in January 2015. Because Tennessee did not then recognize same-sex marriage as legal, Erica Witt’s name was not placed on the baby’s birth certificate.

In February, Sabrina Witt filed for divorce. Her attorney, John Harber, contended the only law on Tennessee’s books addressing parenting rights in the case of artificial insemination — enacted in 1977 — makes clear the law applies only to husbands.

“That terminology is not interchangeable,” Harber argued at a hearing Friday.

Tennessee still doesn’t have a law on the books officially recognizing same-sex marriage but is essentially under a mandate to do so due to a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year recognizing the rights of same-sex couples to marry. That ruling did not address divorce or parental rights in a divorce in which neither same-sex partner legally adopted the child they call their own.

Erica Witt’s attorney, Virginia Schwamm, contends the same reasoning used by the nation’s high court in marriage applies in divorce and custody matters.

“The argument that marriage may only consist of a ‘husband’ and a ‘wife’ has been held to be unconstitutional,” Schwamm said. “(Tennessee marriage certificates) still (indicate) male and female, but surely that no longer applies. Just because the statute reads man and woman, this court can interpret the statute in a manner that makes it constitutional.”

…Schwamm called the language of husband and wife outdated and urged McMillan to simply update it via his ruling, just as court clerks’ offices across the state are now revamping all manner of domestic forms, from marriage certificates to divorce petitions, to accommodate same-sex couples.

…But McMillan said it was not up to the courts to enact “social policy” via legal rulings and a strict reading of the artificial insemination law tied his hands in this case.

“I believe as a trial court I am not to plow new ground, but to apply precedent and the law,” McMillan said.

He is allowing Schwamm to appeal, putting the divorce action on hold pending a decision by the Tennessee Court of Appeals on whether to hear the issue.

“Given the novelty of this issue, the court thinks it appropriate to see if the appellate courts want to address this,” he said.

Judge Rejects TN Planned Parenthood Defunding Law

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A federal judge in Nashville has blocked Republican leaders’ efforts to keep Planned Parenthood of Tennessee from participating in venereal disease prevention programs. The efforts are federally funded, but administered by the state and are aimed at reducing the infection rate of HIV and syphilis.
The Commercial Appeal (http://bit.ly/Ywffwu) reported U.S. District Court Judge William J. Haynes Jr. issued his ruling Wednesday, barring the state from defunding Planned Parenthood in contracts totaling more than $171,500 last year.
In his ruling, Haynes noted a political and legislative history of Republican efforts to cut the organization’s funding because Planned Parenthood also performs abortions. He cited statements from then-candidate Bill Haslam, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and Sen. Stacey Campfield.
The court noted a statement in which Ramsey called Planned Parenthood “the largest abortion provider in the country” and said, “It has always been the ambition of Republicans in the legislature to defund this organization.”
Barry Chase, CEO of Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region, said the agency is “thrilled that the court has permanently stopped the state from impermissibly barring Planned Parenthood from providing critical disease prevention education and services. Politics should never interfere with Tennesseans’ access to critical medical services.”
Planned Parenthood has received positive reviews over the last decade of administering the program, for which the contracts are let through competitive bidding.

Fed Grant Will Offset Planned Parenthood Loss of State Funding

The Memphis branch of Planned Parenthood received a federal grant that will help offset the loss of state funding last year, reports the Commercial Appeal.
A $395,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will cover a little more than half of the $748,000 in funding that was eliminated last year by lawmakers who oppose abortion.
The federal funding brought a prompt condemnation from the Tennessee Right to Life group. (Note: News release below.)
The grant, which will be distributed annually for the next three years, will be used to provide services to low-income women, said Barry Chase, president of Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region.
“The basic thing that we lost the ability to do was provide low-income women with free birth control and free annual exams. We have had to charge some small minimal amount to women,” Chase said. “We were extremely pleased to know that we will have the opportunity to provide health care for low-income women who will be able to come to us as they have in the past.”
The money eliminated from Planned Parenthood in both Memphis and Nashville last year was part of federal Title 10 funding, which covers birth control counseling, drugs and devices, and health services such as testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases and screenings for breast and cervical cancer.
That funding does not include abortion, nor will the new grant, Chase said.
Compounding Planned Parenthood’s recent troubles, the Shelby County Commission also voted last year to award a $397,900 contract to provide family planning services for low-income people to Christ Community Health Services. Some commissioners expressed concern over abortion, leading to their vote to bypass Planned Parenthood for the grant.
While this grant will not fully replace the money lost, Chase hopes private fundraising will help offset the difference.
“This is not good for Planned Parenthood. This is good for the women and teens in Shelby County,” Chase said.

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Judge Grants Preliminary Injunction in Planned Parenthood Suit

News release from Planned Parenthood:
MEMPHIS, TN – Planned Parenthood Middle and East Tennessee applauds United States District Judge William Haynes’s ruling today to grant a preliminary injunction to halt the Tennessee Department of Health’s decision to rescind HIV and syphilis testing and prevention grants awarded to Planned Parenthood affiliates in Tennessee.
“This ruling is a victory for the thousands of women, men and teens of Tennessee who rely on Planned Parenthood for HIV and STD testing and prevention counseling. Planned Parenthood has provided these services in our communities for more than 10 years and is eminently qualified to continue providing them,” said Jeff Teague, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood Middle and East Tennessee.
In the suit against the state, Planned Parenthood argues they were excluded from the HIV and syphilis elimination programs for providing comprehensive women’s health care–a violation of federal law and the constitutional rights of Planned Parenthood.
In 2011, 17,698 women, men and teens relied on Planned Parenthood’s nonprofit health centers in communities throughout Tennessee for a wide range of quality, affordable health care services including annual exams, birth control counseling and care, reproductive cancer screenings, STD prevention and treatment and abortion care. One in five American women has relied on Planned Parenthood at some point in her life. Planned Parenthood has been operating in Tennessee for more than 75 years.
“This decision will allow us to continue our life saving work, providing high quality educational programming with accurate health information and services,” said Lyndsey Godwin, PPMET’s Manager of Education and Training. “HIV prevention education and counseling empowers people and saves lives.”
Over the past five years, the rate of new HIV infections among 15-to-24-year-olds in Tennessee has more than doubled. Tennessee’s syphilis infection rate is the fifth highest in the nation, with 60 percent of all new syphilis cases in the state occurring in Shelby County.
“With such dismal health statistics, now is not the time to cut prevention programs that are proven to work,” Teague continued.

Haslam Sidesteps Planned Parenthood Lawsuit Commentary

Jeff Woods reproduces an exchange between himself and Gov. Bill Haslam on the defunding of Planned Parenthood and, naturally, adds some commentary.
Why did your health commissioner revoke those contracts? we asked Haslam today.
Haslam: We feel very comfortable in the lawsuit and because it is a lawsuit there’s not a whole lot I can say.
Q: Why would you revoke the contracts? You gave them the contracts and then you revoked them. Why?
Haslam: I think the commissioner felt like there were other people who could provide that service just as well.
Q: Why not let Planned Parenthood do it? You gave them the contracts before you revoked them.
Haslam: The commissioner felt like there were other people who could provide that service just as well.
Of course, this was just a little game we were playing. Haslam knows why the grants were taken away, and he knows we know. In fact, everyone knows. It’s all part of the social conservative jihad against Planned Parenthood for having the audacity to perform a perfectly legal health care service, i.e., abortions.

Haslam Defends Cutting Planned Parenthood Funding

From WPTY-TV in Memphis:
If you want state money, do not provide abortions; that’s the message from Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam. His reaction comes after Planned Parenthood branches in Tennessee filed a lawsuit against the state for cutting funds for HIV and syphilis testing.
Governor Haslam wouldn’t say if the cuts were driven by politics. He claims the state is simply moving money to other health care providers, and firmly stands behind state cuts to Planned Parenthood.
“I did say that and obviously the state took that but that was part of what I said when I was running for governor,” he said.
More than $150,000 in state money was cut from Planned Parenthood in Davidson and Shelby Counties. The non-profits filed an injunction to get those funds back.
…Governor Haslam wouldn’t comment about the lawsuit but did say that Planned Parenthood is not the only provider of HIV and STD testing.
“Our feelings end up being that there’s really 93 counties that were providing that themselves, only Davidson and Shelby weren’t doing that,” the governor told abc24.com.
The governor stresses that money is still going to organizations that will provide good medical services.
“It’s not that there’s no funding. The state is redirecting their funding to other providers through the county health departments.”

Planned Parenthood Sues Over Loss of Funding

News release from Planned Parenthood:
NASHVILLE, TN – This morning Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee and Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region filed suit against the Tennessee Department of Health in federal district court to restore preventive care funding under the HIV Prevention Services Grant program and the Syphilis Elimination Grant program.
Planned Parenthood affiliates won funding for community education and health services work in these programs in August 2011 following a competitive bidding process. In December 2011, the grant contracts to both Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee (PPMET) and Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region (PPGMR) were dropped with no reason given after they were approved and without identifying a qualified provider to meet the need left by the elimination of Planned Parenthood from these prevention programs.
“It is disgraceful that Governor Haslam and Commissioner Dreyzehner have put politics ahead of the health and well-being of thousands of Tennesseans,” said Jeff Teague, PPMET’s CEO. “Women and men count on Planned Parenthood for lifesaving health information, including HIV prevention. To jeopardize the lives and health of young people across Tennessee for purely political reasons is shocking and irresponsible.”

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Shelby Commission Drops Planned Parenthood Contract

The Shelby County Commission voted 9-4 Monday in favor of giving a contract to local nonprofit group Christ Community Health Services to provide family-planning services for poor people, reports the Commercial Appeal.
The vote was a setback for Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region, which currently has a temporary county contract and protested the proposed switch to Christ Community.
The contract focused on family planning, but abortion was an underlying issue. Planned Parenthood performs abortions; Christ Community does not.
“It is about abortion. That’s why so many people are here,” said Jeff Drzycimski, a Catholic deacon and one of several abortion opponents who spoke at Monday’s commission meeting. “We want our tax dollars not to fund Planned Parenthood, not to fund the killing of children.”
After the vote, Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Joan Carr said the organization would now have to charge patients for birth-control services.
“This decision is not in the best interest of the women and families of Shelby County and was the result of state and local political pandering,” she said in a statement. “It is unfortunate that politics trumped people’s needs.”

Shelby Commission Deadlocks on Planned Parenthood Vote

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Shelby County commissioners have deadlocked on a plan that would strip Planned Parenthood of a contract to provide family planning services for low-income residents and give the job to a group that does not perform abortions.
The 5-5 vote in committee Wednesday leaves in doubt the outcome of next Monday’s scheduled final vote before the full commission on a contract with Christ Community Health Services, The Commercial Appeal reports (http://bit.ly/pd6Qd6).
Planned Parenthood held a contract to provide family planning services until the state Legislature sought to cut government funding to the organization. Christ Community Health Services, a local nonprofit, does not perform abortions, but Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region does.
The contract covers services such as birth control counseling and testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases.

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Some TN Opinions

State Sales Tax Hike? ‘Ridiculous,’ Says Ramsey
In Washington County, a proposal to raise the local sales tax is being floated. As Robert Houk sees it, one of the arguments by proponents is misguided.
School board members and at least one city commissioner have said hiking the local rate would be a defensive move. They fear the state General Assembly might decide to raise the state’s rate to the maximum and keep all the revenues in Nashville.
It’s an argument that has been used before to try to convince voters to raise the local sales tax rate. It’s also one that has failed to make a difference at the ballot box…In each of those (past county) referendums, proponents said the state was just itching to keep the remaining portion of the local option in Nashville. Doing so would constitute a state tax increase, and legislative leaders I’ve spoken to say that’s not going to happen on their watch.
In fact, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, told me last week it’s “ridiculous” to think so. “I’ve heard that argument before, but it’s never been discussed in Nashville,” Ramsey said.
He said the idea of raising the sales tax is not even on the radar screen. He said the Republican-led General Assembly has already made massive cuts to balance the state budget and is “prepared to make even more if necessary.”
Talk of a tax increase is poison to Republican lawmakers. Many of them have signed irresponsible anti-tax increase pledges that could be used against them come re-election time if they were to go back on their promises. Regardless of what you think of the Republican stand on taxes, the GOP is a disciplined party that punishes any members who dare go astray.

Tort Reform Not Conservative?
From a Tennessean op-ed by attorney Gary Blackburn:
A General Assembly with a lieutenant governor who threatened to give the “boot” to the federal government has commanded the enforcement of a purely procedural standard on dismissal of lawsuits adopted by the U.S. Supreme Court rather than that adopted by the Tennessee Supreme Court, because it strengthens the opportunity of wealthy defendants to deprive citizens the right to a jury trial in meritorious cases.
A few years ago, Nashville had a businessman who would disassemble your transmission, demand an exorbitant price, and when you refused to pay, hand you a box of parts. He and his company were repeatedly sued for “unfair and deceptive trade practices” under the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act. No more. If you experience that or any of a myriad of consumer outrages, your only unlikely alternative is to get the overburdened Tennessee attorney general’s office to pursue your claim. The bat is removed from the hands of your own attorney.
Access to our courts derived from the Magna Carta and embedded in our Constitution since 1796 is under siege by people claiming to be “conservatives.”
True conservatives preserve ancient rules and institutions, which are the product of experience. True “conservatives” are not proponents of capricious and motivated change.

Re-evaluating Teacher Evaluations
Tennessee’s new teacher evaluation system needs re-evaluating, says Gail Kerr.
If it were just a few grousers weighing in, negative reviews would be easy to shrug off — the new system is designed, after all, to root out bad teachers who have been allowed to continue year after year.
But teachers are complaining in droves, many of them in tears, that the new system is “overwhelming” them with paperwork that is distracting them from actually teaching students. Worse, teachers are quitting over it.

Fighting Over Family Planning Money
A Sunday column by Wendi C. Thomas starts like this:
I have nothing but respect for the righteous work that Christ Community Health Services does. The workers live their faith by caring for the poor and are irreplaceable.
But — and you knew there was a but coming — so is Planned Parenthood.
Across the country, hundreds of thousands of women, including me, can thank Planned Parenthood for keeping us healthy when we had no access to reproductive care.
But politics has unfortunately pitted the two against each other, in a fight for federal family-planning dollars before the Shelby County Commission. Stuck in the middle are thousands of Memphis women who could go without care or information on all reproductive choices.
Christ Community and Planned Parenthood are in the running to receive a Title X family planning grant to be administered by the county health department, a grant that had historically gone to Planned Parenthood.
But when the state legislature went GOP, the party set as its mission the destruction of Planned Parenthood, even though not a cent of public dollars has ever gone to abortion services.