MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) - It's a debate over life and death and Shelby County Commissioners are left to sort it all out. They have to vote on approving a $400,000 contract that will either benefit Planned Parenthood or Christ Community Health Services.
Planned Parenthood provides abortions, while Christ Community does not. That's where the conflict comes in to play.
Supporters on both sides of this issue packed the commission meeting on Wednesday, October 12, 2011. Each side urged commissioners to support their cause. The problem is, it appears commissioners don't want to deal with the issue right now.
"It's very political," says Planned Parenthood supporter Erica Washington, "because most of the commissioners are letting abortion steer their vote, as opposed to who's been doing the work the longest, who's been providing the excellent health care the longest."
Washington was among dozens of Planned Parenthood supporters who packed commission chambers.
"This is a no brainer people," Commissioner Chris Thomas told the crowd. "We take the politics out of it."
But when you're talking about nearly $500,000, that may be hard to do.
The Shelby County Health Department says it awarded the contract to Christ Community because there are more clinic locations and it provides the overall best health care in the area.
"What distresses me," says Christ Community director Burt Waller, "is that the debate is about how to maintain the status quo."
That appears to be the problem. Commissioner Steve Mulroy even addressed the issue of Title X. That's how the federal government funds the program.
"If people ask about abortion services and they didn't counsel them instead they said 'well you know where to go,' that would be a violation of Title X, right?” Mulroy asked the Shelby County Attorney Jina Shoaf.
“Yes," Shoaf responded, "and we can terminate the contract then."
In the end, commissioners decided for the second time to delay the vote and tackle the issue next week.
Burt Waller was asked by abc24.com what will happen if Christ Community wins the contract. How will his staff handle emergency contraceptives and questions about abortions? He says they'll offer advice and information, but are not required to give them a list of abortion clinics.
Whoever receives the Title X funding can't use the federal money for abortions.
Commissioners promise a full committee vote on Monday, October 17th.