The attorney general of Tennessee has filed a lawsuit against the federal government regarding a rule on abortion that restricts funding.

The chief legal officer of Tennessee has stated that the federal government is unjustly withholding a large sum of money designated for family planning. This is due to the state’s decision not to follow federal regulations that require clinics to offer abortion referrals, as the state currently has a ban on the procedure.

Earlier this week, Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti submitted a complaint to the U.S. District Court in Knoxville, aiming to reverse the decision made by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“We are taking legal action to prevent the federal government from using political tactics that affect the well-being of women in Tennessee,” stated Skrmetti. “Our lawsuit is crucial in maintaining Tennessee’s 50-year history of effectively providing essential public health services to those who need it most.”

A representative from HHS stated that the department refrains from commenting on ongoing legal proceedings.

In the beginning of this year, Tennessee was deemed ineligible to receive a large sum of money from a program called Title X that focuses on family planning. Tennessee has been a participant in this program since it started in 1970 and has been receiving approximately $7.1 million each year. This money has been used to support almost 100 clinics that offer birth control and basic health care to primarily low-income women, many of whom come from minority backgrounds.

Unfortunately, the program has become embroiled in the ongoing and intense debate surrounding abortion rights. In 2021, the Biden administration overturned a policy prohibiting abortion referrals at clinics that receive funding from Title X. This restriction was first put in place during the Trump administration in 2019, but the department has been inconsistent on its stance on this issue for some time.

According to the most recent regulation, clinics are not allowed to use federal funding for abortions. However, they are required to provide information about abortion upon the patient’s request.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of overturning Roe v. Wade, which has resulted in states led by Republicans, such as Tennessee, being able to enact abortion bans. The lawsuit filed on Tuesday claims that HHS did not notify officials about how its 2021 rule would affect states with existing abortion restrictions.

In March, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) notified health officials in Tennessee that the state was not in compliance with Title X regulations. This was due to a policy that prohibited clinics from discussing pregnancy termination options that were not allowed in the state, effectively banning any discussions on elective abortions. The state stood by its policy and refused to make changes, prompting the federal government to state in a letter on March 20 that continuing to provide Title X funding to Tennessee was not in the best interest of the government. The state has since appealed this decision, and the appeal is still in progress.

In September, HHS declared that the majority of Tennessee’s Title X funds would go to Planned Parenthood, the top provider of abortions in the US. Planned Parenthood would then allocate the funds to their clinics in Tennessee.

Ashley Coffield, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi, on Wednesday called Title X funding “an important part” of providing Tennesseans affordable sexual and reproductive health care. She added that her organization is “thrilled once again to be a part of delivering these services to the people of Tennessee — particularly in light of the state’s ongoing assault on sexual and reproductive health.”

Republican Governor Bill Lee has denounced the action as “wrong on multiple levels” and accused the federal government of withholding funds from families in order to back a “radical political group.”

Skrmetti’s office is requesting a federal judge to restore Tennessee’s Title X funding and declare that HHS cannot withhold funds due to a state’s abortion ban. This is because the federal appeals process on this matter has come to a halt. The state is also seeking clarification on whether it is required to use state funds to make up for the federal portion.

Tennessee has been increasingly vocal about refusing federal funding in order to avoid adhering to certain requirements regarding LGBTQ+ rights, abortion access, and other controversial topics. In 2021 alone, the state has rejected federal funding for a program aimed at preventing and treating HIV, and initially tried to prevent Planned Parenthood from being involved in the program.

Republican legislators are currently discussing the possibility of eliminating around $1.8 billion in federal funds for education, which primarily benefits underprivileged students, English language learners, and students with disabilities. Supporters argue that Tennessee has sufficient funds to make up for this loss and doing so would allow the state more freedom and autonomy without being bound by restrictions on LGBTQ+ rights, racial issues, and other matters.