NASHVILLE - The long-time president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee, Jeff Teague, said Friday will be his last day with the group.
Teague said in a news release that as the national Planned Parenthood organization celebrates its 100th anniversary and looks to its future, "I am doing the same. After nearly 17 years, I have decided it is time to leave [Planned Parenthood] and explore other opportunities."
The group provides reproductive health services, including abortion, and has been at the center of any number of political and court battles in Tennessee over the years. It operates centers in Nashville and Knoxville.
Teague said he is "incredibly proud of what we have accomplished" in recent years, noting the Tennessee organization is financially stable, serves more patients than ever and continues to add services for both women and men.
"In an incredibly hostile environment, the political strength and influence of Planned Parenthood is unquestionable," Teague said, adding he is "honored and humbled to have worked with the most incredibly passionate and dedicated staff and volunteers."
In an email response to Times Free Press inquiries, Teague said that while his departure announcement may appear abrupt "leaving Planned Parenthood was completely my decision. The affiliate is in a strong position and it was time to move on to something new."
It's "something I have been thinking about for about a year or so and began discussing it with the Board several months ago," Teague noted, adding they just hadn't gotten around to announcing anything publicly until now.
Diana Finlayson, chairwoman of Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee (PPMET), said that "in the face of an adverse and hostile political climate, Jeff has moved our organization forward with grace" and worked "relentlessly to position PPMET as a champion for health care and for women's rights.
"He has impacted the lives of hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans and Kentuckians, and for that we are grateful," Finlayson said. "We will miss Jeff's charismatic and inspiring leadership."
Keri Adams, currently the Tennessee group's senior vice president, has been named interim CEO for the affiliate.
Finlayson said the board "has every confidence in the abilities of Ms. Adams to lead PPMET during this time. Together, we are committed to building on the excellence of our affiliate and the strength of Planned Parenthood throughout the country."
Earlier this year, Teague and Planned Parenthood and legislative allies unsuccessfully fought against yet another anti-abortion measure in the Republican-run Tennessee General Assembly.
Later signed by Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, the new law bans abortions in Tennessee after 20 weeks if a doctor determines the fetus is viable through required tests.
Doctors would be subject to criminal felony penalties for performing abortions in those cases unless it's demonstrated the mother risks death or serious damage to a major bodily function if she carries the fetus to term. It's one of the strictest laws in the U.S. and abortion opponents celebrated the advance.
In 2014, Planned Parenthood and like-minded supporters of abortion rights battled with Tennessee Right to Life and other abortion opponents over a state ballot measure to amend the Tennessee Constitution and strip it of language stating or implying any right to an abortion.
The multi-million-dollar campaign over Amendment 1 resulted in a victory for Tennessee Right to Life with 53 percent of voters saying yes. But the election's outcome has been challenged in federal court over technical aspects involving how Tennessee officials counted the amendment votes.
Meanwhile, a 2015 challenge to Tennessee's mandatory 48-hour waiting period required for women seeking an abortion continues in federal court. But earlier this year, Tennessee agreed to stop enforcing two other abortion laws challenged in the case after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled as unconstitutional two similar laws passed in Texas.