published Friday, May 6th, 2011

Group plans rally in support of family planning

by Dan Whisenhunt
Audio clip

Hamilton County Commission

As news spread Thursday about the Hamilton County Commission nearly removing all funding from the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department’s family planning program, a local advocacy group set a date for a showdown.

Commission Chairman Larry Henry said the commission will discuss the issue on May 18.

Chattanooga Organized for Action plans to rally in support of family planning at the Hamilton County Commission room from 9 a.m. to noon that day.

“This is a huge issue that affects thousands of women in Hamilton County,” organizer Chris Brooks said. “We were getting calls saying we’ve got to do something. We were happy to step up. We think this is an issue that everybody can agree on.”

Commissioners said county residents called and sent at least 10 e-mails after the commission nearly nixed all family planning funds during Wednesday’s commission meeting. They later tabled the move.

Commissioner Mitch McClure and other commissioners were confused about whether a contraceptive known as the morning-after pill can cause abortions. Health department Administrator Becky Barnes said the department does not provide any kind of abortion services.

The department provides various forms of birth control, including condoms, injections and abstinence education.

McClure said he was a little taken aback by the uproar.

“I think, to be very honest, perhaps this whole matter has been blown way out of context,” McClure said. “We as county commissioners are charged with (approving) the budget.”

McClure said he is not against family planning.

Most of the funding for the program comes from grant money, though there is a $40,000 local match.

McClure said he could reverse his vote if he’s convinced taxpayer money isn’t being used to pay for abortions.

Henry, who first voted to accept the grant, then changed his vote to no, said his action had as much to do with a tight budget year as it does with moral objections.

“I know myself I am looking to prioritize parts of the health department,” Henry said.

Commissioner Greg Beck, the only yes vote to keep the program, said the commission possibly cutting off funds is “beyond comprehension.”

“I just feel like the commissioners didn’t have enough information,” he said.

about Dan Whisenhunt...

Dan Whisenhunt covers Hamilton County government for the Times Free Press. A native of Mobile, Ala., Dan earned a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Alabama. He won first place for best in-depth news coverage in the 2010 Alabama Press Association contest; the FOI-First Amendment Award in the 2007 Alabama Press Association contest; first place for best public service story in the Alabama AP Managing Editors contest in 2009 for economic coverage; and ...

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