Tennessee lawmakers okay bill to ban state money to abortion providers

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — It’s up to Republican Gov. Bill Haslam whether to sign legislation seeking federal approval to ban TennCare payments to abortion providers, including Planned Parenthood, for non-abortion services.

In a 24-2 vote Thursday, the Senate passed Republican Sen. Mike Bell’s bill. The House passed it earlier this month.

The proposal would apply to elective abortion providers performing 50-plus abortions annually.

State and federal law already ban Medicaid abortion funding. Some exceptions include rape, incest or risk of the mother’s death.

Senate Democratic Caucus Leader Jeff Yarbro asked why Tennessee would want to limit the number of women’s health providers that offer well-woman visits, obstetrics, contraceptive coverage and sexually transmitted disease treatment.

Bell said there are plenty of other health providers. He called the bill a statement policy by Tennessee against abortion.

CEO of Planned Parenthood greater Memphis region Ashley Coffied says the bill will cut other services.

"Federal and state dollars do not fund abortion services in Tennessee this bill cuts people off from providers who offer preventative care," Coffied said.

She says this will create hardships for thousands in Shelby County

"The last thing we need is for the legislature to say that providers who are willing and able to serve Medicaid recipients can't do so because of their political agenda," Coffied said.

Supporters insist the funding will shift to health departments and other private, non-profit providers we spoke to the former legislative liaison for Tennessee Right to Life, Kathy Waterbury, on the phone.

"It's actually providing women with broader access to healthcare because they can go to their local health departments because they'll have the funds to do cancer screenings and STI testing," Waterbury said.

The bill still has hurdles to cross. The governor has to give us approval and a waiver would be sent to the feds who have to also sign off on it.