Tennessee Lawmakers Want to Deny Critical Reproductive Health Care to the State’s Poorest Women

Politicians in Tennessee are trying to cut off sexual and reproductive health access to the over 500,000 women covered by TennCare, the state’s Medicaid program.

Tennessee’s Amendment 36 would specifically deny TennCare money to all medical providers who offer abortion services. While the state previously did not allow for TennCare money to be used for abortion services, the new policy will additionally prevent women from accessing preventative healthcare services from abortion providers—such as lifesaving cancer screenings, STI testing, birth control and well-woman exams.

“It’s a further attack on women in Tennessee,” state representative Brenda Gilmore (D-54), who represents part of the Nashville metropolitan area told Ms. “[Planned Parenthood] does so much in terms of preventative care for women—women who do not have any insurance or any other options for their general care.”

TennCare is meant to provide low-income pregnant women and parents with access to necessary health care. Amendment 36 will have a highly detrimental impact on communities in Tennessee who already face discriminatory practices and institutional barriers to well-being—such as people of color, LGBTQ folks, immigrants, low-income and rural people. 53 percent of women who gave birth in Tennessee in 2016 were TennCare or Medicaid recipients; under Amendment 36, they would lose access to critical maternal health services provided by organizations like Planned Parenthood statewide.

In 2010, 56 percent of pregnancies in Tennessee were unintended—but with an anti-abortion Governor, House and Senate, 63 percent of women in the state live in a county without an abortion clinic. The Volunteer State earned a dismal “severely restricted” rating by NARAL Pro-Choice America. The push for Amendment 36 comes on the heels of Governor Bill Haslam (R) stripping TennCare funding for Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers, as well as efforts in the legislature to erect a “monument to unborn children” on the capitol grounds—a move that displays the intense fervor of anti-abortion politicians in Tennessee.

“This is about taking rights and opportunities away from people,” Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi CEO Ashley Coffield told a local news station,” in order to meet a political agenda.”


Brock Colyar is a former editorial intern at Ms. They were a journalism and gender and sexuality studies major at Northwestern University, where they founded a campus queer and radical feminist magazine and served as a sexual health and assault peer educator. Much of their spare time is spent overthinking intra-feminist politics and Stevie Nicks. You can follow them on Twitter @UnhappyFem (Photo via Colin Boyle/The Daily Northwestern.)