How Tennessee plans to defund HIV prevention (and answers to your questions about anti-abortion clinics)

Welcome to Matter of Faith, Reckon’s newest weekly newsletter where we get into the nitty gritty of the unholy trinity of faith, sex and politics. I’m Anna Beahm, Reckon’s faith, sex and politics reporter and the real person on the other side of the screen.

I’m writing this from my home in Tennessee. The sun is setting outside and the skinny neighborhood trees look like thick charcoal lines against the setting ball of fire. The transition from blue sky to black night feels so relatable to the headlines these days.

So much stressful stuff happening in the news lately:. chemical disasters, Chinese spy/weather/hobby balloons (Who knows?), and . This sultry sunset is really capturing my mood about *everything* right now. (And don’t worry, it ain’t all despair and doom and gloom — I’m hopeful about what’s to come, especially in this here newsletter.

Which btw, thank you to everyone who has subscribed and reached out to me after last week’s inaugural edition went out. Your replies have not gone unread — your feedback is especially important to me as I get this thing rolling.

If this is your first time receiving the newsletter or a friend forwarded it to you unannounced, don’t sweat: you can learn more about the vision behind it here and read a collection of my stories here. You can also DM me on Instagram and Twitter @_AnnaBeahm.

Now, let’s get to the issue that’s been top of mind for me as the Tennessee legislature labors on:

No. 1 AIDS hotspot in the US just suffered a big cut in HIV funding, and results could be devastating

In January, the Tennessee Dept. of Health told Friends for Life, a nonprofit org focused on supporting people living with HIV, that the state had decided to forego HIV prevention funding from the CDC. Tennessee typically receives about $9 to $10 million in federal HIV prevention grants, which is then distributed to health centers eligible for the grant funding.

In the past, the organization has received about $500,000 from the CDC grant distributed by the state. The funding also qualifies FFL to receive funding from the 340B drug discount program, which allows the organization to provide PrEP and PEP for free or at a very low cost. That’s $500K they can’t bank on now.

“Why would a state that’s one of the poorest states in the nation give back $10 million?” Duke asked. “It doesn’t make sense to me. If it’s politically driven, then shame on them. It’s tragic. There are real people who can die because of this,” said Diane Duke, CEO of Friends for Life.

The loss of the CDC and 340B funding could mean Duke’s nonprofit could lose $1.2 million for HIV prevention—a cut that would threaten two of the organization’s sexual health clinics and the progress they’ve made toward preventing the spread of HIV in the city with the highest rate of new AIDS diagnoses nationwide, according to the CDC.

Memphis’s own Shelby County was one of 48 counties identified in the federal government’s “Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S.” initiative announced in 2019. These 48 counties and an additional seven states were chosen because at least 50 percent of all new HIV diagnoses occurred in these areas in 2016 and 2017.

Because of this designation, Shelby County clinics are eligible for HIV prevention and treatment funding through various federal funding initiatives, according to

The EHE initiative aims to reduce the number of new HIV infections by 75% by 2025, and end the epidemic by 2030. A threat to this funding represents a threat to the effort to end HIV and could undo the progress toward that goal, Duke said.

Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi—which serves the Memphis area—will lose about $235,000 from the CDC grant, which the organization uses to distribute condoms and train people how to test for HIV.

Just last year, the organization saw more than 12,000 unique patients, distributed more than half a million condoms and provided nearly 17,000 HIV and other STI tests, according to the PPTNM’s 2022 annual report. More than half (51%) of the patients were Black.

“Grant recipients are working with the CDC in hopes of United Way of Nashville receiving the grant dollars directly, free from state interference. In any case, Planned Parenthood is committed to non-judgmental, evidence-based HIV prevention programs,” said Ashley Coffield, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi.

What communities are getting impacted the most?

More than 20,000 Tennessee residents are living with HIV and are receiving treatment, but the CDC estimates 14% of Tennesseans don’t know their HIV status so the number of people living with the condition could be higher. These people who don’t know their status are important, because the CDC estimates 80 percent of all new HIV infections are transmitted from people who don’t know their status or who aren’t receiving treatment.

Read more about who this funding cut will affect the most, and how organizations are responding.

Your questions, answered: Why would anyone oppose anti-abortion clinics?

Remember when I said I wanted to hear your questions? I’ve already received some great ones about my reporting including this one from Genie, who asked:

“Why would anyone be against organizations trying to help women with unplanned pregnancy? Is abortion such a great option that supporting mother and child should not be considered as, at least, an alternative?”

This is a good question, and one that doesn’t surprise me considering the conversations around these clinics, which often call themselves “crisis pregnancy centers” or even use purposefully misleading terms like “women’s clinic” or words like “choice” or “options” in the clinic name.

While many of the clinics have ultrasound machines (and 13 states where abortion remains legal require an ultrasound before an abortion), they are not medical clinics and are not required to meet the stringent health and privacy regulations real medical clinics must follow.

The clinics often look like the medical clinics you’re likely used to with waiting rooms, patient rooms and (hopeful) stockpiles of medical supplies such as pregnancy tests, STI tests and ultrasound machines, but they should not be confused with an obstetrician’s office. Most of the “clinics” are non-profit organizations either operated locally (usually by a church) or through one of the large, heavily-funded nonprofits that operate clinics across the country.

In a recent lawsuit involving a Kentucky anti-abortion clinic, defendants allege the clinic was using an expired container of the wrong type of disinfectant to clean the vaginal probe ultrasound device. In this case, the disinfectant could be deemed not as effective.

The anti-abortion clinics have also been criticized by a number of medical associations and doctors for providing misleading information about abortion, childbirth and birth control. You can learn more about these common, misleading tactics here.

“Honest information about the perspective from which they dispense advice and support, in addition to forthright acknowledgement of their limitations, is essential for these centers to provide an ethical service to women. For no other medical procedure would someone who is not a health care professional seek to give detailed counseling on the risks of the procedure,” two doctors said in a 2018 article in the American Medical Association Journal of Ethics.

If we’re talking about giving people facing an unintended pregnancy accurate information regarding their options, anti-abortion pregnancy centers don’t meet that standard. In 2018, the Supreme Court struck down a California law that required anti-abortion clinics to provide information about abortion, so even the highest court in America has endorsed their half-truth tactics.

If you’re curious to know what other medical professionals think about anti-abortion clinics, you’re going to want to read these statements from national orgs:

Other things you should read:

  • Did you know the Filet-O-Fish was born out of fast food restaurants’ efforts to keep their customer base during Lent? (The Street)
  • When You Were Here: A series honoring the lives of trans women murdered in 2023″ by Denny, Reckon’s LGBTQ+ communities reporter.
  • Beth Moore left the Southern Baptist Church and is an Anglican now (NBC News)

That’s all I’ve got for today. Don’t forget to send me your questions via e-mail or DM on Twitter or Instagram. Let me know what’s on your mind. This is a judgment-free zone. I’d especially love your hot takes on Lenten fast food. I know there’s a Friday cheese pizza contingent out there that has some opinions.

- Anna

Anna Beahm

Anna Beahm |

I report on the intersection of religion and sexuality in America. Follow me on Twitter @_AnnaBeahm

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