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Tennessee AG sues HHS over family planning funding block.

Tennessee Attorney General ​Challenges Termination of Title X Funding ​in Lawsuit Against HHS

Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti has ⁤taken legal​ action against the Department of Health and ​Human Services (HHS) and HHS Secretary Xavier​ Becerra, filing a ⁢formal complaint to contest the termination of the state’s Title⁢ X funding. The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of⁣ Tennessee, accuses the federal government of attempting to⁣ force states into implementing pro-abortion policies that go against legal and constitutional limits.

“This case involves the‍ federal government’s latest effort⁣ to coerce States into‌ carrying out pro-abortion policy in violation of statutory, constitutional, and​ administrative-law limits,” the complaint reads.

The dispute arises from⁣ Tennessee’s refusal to comply with federal regulations that require abortion referrals, a decision based on​ the state’s current ‌ban on the procedure.

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In‍ a letter dated March 20, ⁤the ⁤HHS Title ‌X program ‍director informed state health officials that funding for the Tennessee Department of Health would not be continued for​ Fiscal Year 2023 due to non-compliance with Title X⁣ regulations. The ⁣letter stated that Tennessee was⁣ unable to fulfill the terms and conditions of the award,⁤ leading to the ⁢decision not to provide continuation ⁤funding.

The lawsuit, initiated on⁢ Oct. 24, aims to overturn HHS’s decision, alleging that ‌it violates federal law and constitutional rights and⁢ reflects arbitrary ⁢decision-making by the department.

Tennessee​ Attorney ‍General ‍Jonathan Skrmetti.⁢ (Courtesy of Jonathan Skrmetti)

“We are suing to stop the federal government‍ from playing politics with the health of Tennessee women,” stated Mr. Skrmetti. He emphasized that in 2022, HHS⁤ praised Tennessee’s Department of Health for its ability to ⁤administer Title X funds effectively‌ and‍ without​ interruption.

“This year, the federal government illegally diverted those funds to​ Planned​ Parenthood,” Mr. Skrmetti continued. ​”Our lawsuit ​is necessary to ensure that Tennessee can continue its 50-year ‍track record of successfully providing ​these public health services ⁢to⁢ its neediest populations.”

Factual Matters

Title X is a federal program⁤ that provides funding for family planning⁢ and related health⁣ services. Tennessee has been a longstanding participant in this program,⁤ receiving approximately $7 ‍million annually to support​ vital public health initiatives.

Tennessee submitted its‌ policy⁢ for‌ a positive pregnancy test as proof of compliance, which includes offering information and counseling on all legal options in the state. However, HHS objected to the inclusion of the ​phrase “legal in the state of‍ Tennessee,” deeming ⁤it unacceptable as Title X recipients must adhere to federal regulations regarding nondirective options ‌counseling‌ and referrals.

Tennessee’s View

The state argues in the⁤ lawsuit that HHS ⁤guidance ​represents the federal government’s‌ attempt ‌to force states ⁢into implementing pro-abortion policies that⁣ violate legal and​ constitutional limits.

Mr. Skrmetti asserts that a⁤ state’s decision to permit or restrict abortion carries significant moral⁢ implications, citing the Supreme Court’s 2022 ruling ‍that overturned Roe v.​ Wade.

“In Tennessee, voters have opted to vindicate an‍ interest in valuing all life by restricting elective abortions and promoting ⁢policies ‌that will help‍ women ⁣carry pregnancies to⁣ term,” the suit reads. “Out of respect for the deeply held opposition ‍to abortion shared by Tennessee⁣ and countless others, Congress‍ has‌ long barred federal funds from aiding abortions.”

Mr. Skrmetti further argues that Title X ‍funding is primarily intended for counseling and family planning ‌services for the less fortunate, with⁤ strict restrictions⁤ on funds being used for ⁣abortion ⁢as a method of family planning.

“Since‍ the mid-1990s,⁢ all⁤ Title X⁤ appropriations bills have expressly ⁢banned funding for elective abortions,” he wrote. “And each has further⁢ required ‌that ‘all pregnancy counseling’ conducted under Title X ‘shall be ‌nondirective’—thus prohibiting‌ Title X recipients from encouraging women to seek abortions.”

Mr. Skrmetti points out the inconsistent policies of⁣ different presidential administrations regarding abortion referrals, with some prohibiting referrals ​in ⁣2019 and others issuing the opposite policy in ‌2021.

Tennessee’s Claims

The lawsuit’s first claim argues that HHS acted⁢ arbitrarily and capriciously ⁢by abruptly terminating Tennessee’s​ Title X funding without⁤ providing a reasonable explanation. The⁤ complaint asserts that HHS reversed its ‍previous conclusion without proper justification, leaving​ the state in⁤ the dark about the decision’s​ rationale.

The lawsuit also alleges that HHS’s interpretation of Title X ⁢regulations, ‌particularly regarding‌ counseling and referrals for abortion options, is⁢ inconsistent with existing​ regulations. Furthermore, HHS is accused of failing to⁢ follow proper‌ rulemaking procedures, including notice-and-comment, when implementing this interpretation.

Xavier Becerra, secretary of Health and Human⁣ Services (HHS), speaks during a‍ press conference at the HHS headquarters in Washington on June 28, 2022. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images)

“HHS unlawfully ​unveiled​ its ‌new interpretation only​ as​ part of HHS’s decision⁢ to terminate Tennessee’s ​Title X funding,” the suit states.

The lawsuit also ​argues that HHS’s‍ actions violate several aspects of the U.S. Constitution. It claims that the termination of Tennessee’s funding goes against the spending clause by ⁢imposing conditions unrelated to the program’s intended purposes.⁤ Additionally, the state contends‍ that⁤ HHS’s actions compel abortion-related ‌speech, infringing upon First Amendment⁢ and 10th Amendment rights.

The state⁣ attorney general’s office highlights the arbitrary nature of HHS’s ‌decision ​to ⁣terminate Title X funding for Tennessee. The ‍complaint raises concerns about HHS’s⁤ inconsistency in relation to its prior⁢ conclusions that the state was in compliance with ⁢program requirements. It also questions HHS’s failure ⁢to consider the ‌feasibility of referrals and the impact of state-level abortion-related restrictions.

HHS⁢ has not yet responded to the‌ complaint in federal court, and the agency has‍ declined to comment on the pending litigation.

‌How does Tennessee argue that HHS’s objection to the⁢ inclusion of the phrase “legal in the state of Tennessee” ​interferes with state law and the state’s right to regulate abortion?

Engineered⁤ its position on ​abortion ⁢referrals ‌and used it as a pretext to⁤ withhold ‍funding from Tennessee,‌ despite acknowledging the state’s effective administration⁣ of‌ Title X funds in the past.

The second⁣ claim ‌asserts that HHS’s actions violate the Constitution’s ⁣Spending Clause, as Tennessee ⁤complied with the terms and conditions of the Title X award by submitting its policy for⁤ positive pregnancy test as proof of compliance. The state argues that HHS’s objection to the inclusion of the‌ phrase⁢ “legal in the state of Tennessee” is an unwarranted interference with state law and an infringement on the state’s right to regulate⁢ abortion.

The lawsuit also alleges​ that HHS’s ‍guidance ​contradicts federal regulations, which require nondirective counseling and referrals. Tennessee argues that⁤ the inclusion of the phrase “legal in ‍the state of Tennessee” does not violate these regulations, as it simply informs patients of the legal options ‍available to them within ⁤the state.

The state seeks injunctive relief, ​asking‍ the court to prevent HHS from terminating Tennessee’s Title X funding and⁤ to declare HHS’s actions unlawful. Additionally, the state seeks a declaration that Tennessee’s policy for positive pregnancy test compliance is valid and complies with federal regulations.

The lawsuit highlights ‌the⁢ ongoing contentious debate over abortion rights in ⁣the United States. ​It underscores the tension between federal and state powers, with ⁢Tennessee ⁣asserting its right⁣ to implement‍ policies that reflect the values and preferences of its citizens. The ⁣outcome⁢ of ⁣this⁢ case could have far-reaching implications for ​the implementation of⁢ Title ⁢X funding and the balance of power between the federal government and the states.

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