The conservative Republicans who now control the Tennessee General Assembly like to brag about being pro-life--especially in an election year. Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey, who is running for Governor this year, is particularly emphatic about his "proven record of fighting to protect the unborn." (Lifted from Ramsey's own website: http://teamronramsey.com/issues).
Last year, Ramsey made a big show of threatening an independent government panel, the Tennessee Health Services and Development Agency, for approving Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region's application to move to a medical office building in Midtown Memphis that happens to be in the general vicinity of Memphis Catholic High School. When the deal fell through for other reasons, Ramsey was quick to issue a press release taking credit for blocking the move. Ramsey was also quick to take credit for legislation last year designed to "defund" Planned Parenthood by denying it a share of Tennessee's Title X federal family planning funding--legislation that was not entirely successful because there is literally no other agency in Shelby County qualified or willing to provide the full scope of family planning and related health services required by the Title X grant program.
But now the social conservatives show their true colors. As Speak to Power points out, one of the programs Republicans have elected to cut in this tough budget year is a $4.5 million program designed to reduce infant mortality in Tennessee. We know all about infant mortality here in Memphis. Memphis has more infant deaths than any other city in the United States, with a rate of 15 deaths for every 1,000 births. It's an issue that has received extensive media attention here in Memphis and nationally. Infant mortality is both a personal tragedy for the families affected and a complicated public health issue with a myriad of contributing factors. After a flurry of embarrassing media coverage of the issue, state health officials came through with a number of programs designed to address the problem, the $4.5 million one among them, which also brought in a significant amount of federal matching funds to Tennessee.
So, if Ramsey is truly devoted to "protecting the unborn," as he says on his website, why would he not fight to keep this infant mortality reduction program instead of characterizing it as "pork"? Could it be because the bulk of the $4.5 program's efforts probably go to benefit the many poor and uninsured new and expectant mothers in Memphis and Shelby County? The disdain that religiously and politically conservative folks in Middle and East Tennessee have for Memphis and its "problems" is legendary. And you know what they're talking about when they say "problems." Yes, face it. Conservatives in the rest of Tennessee don't like it that Memphis is a majority black city that usually votes Democrats into office.
But it's more than that. Conservatives, for all their zeal for "life," don't approve of pregnancies that result from pre-marital sex. One reason they hate Planned Parenthood is that they think access to birth control makes it too easy for unmarried young people to enjoy sex, without suffering the consequences of an unplanned pregnancy. Their real goal is to force everyone to live by the same religious and moral strictures that they promote, but too often don't even live by themselves.
So, remember, when conservatives tout their pro-life family values, they're not talking about saving babies. Because if they really care about babies, why do they cut the health and social programs that benefit babies, children and families every chance they get?
Update: May 29, 2010
"Despite pleas by children's advocates and testimony that babies will die, Republicans on the state Senate Finance Committee stripped funding for an infant-death reduction initiative that officials say is reducing Memphis and Tennessee's high rates of infant mortality." From this morning's CA article. Yet more proof that conservatives only care about "unborn" babies. Once they're out of the womb, they're on their own!
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