After an Electoral Disappointment, Planned Parenthood Prepares for an Uncertain Future

Planned Parenthood Action Fund backed Hillary Clinton for president since the primary elections, and their candidate suffered a shocking loss. Now, with a confirmed pro-life president and strong Republican majorities in Washington, what are the main concerns and plans of action going forward? Tory Mills of Planned Parenthood in Knoxville sheds some light on what could be on the horizon.

These. Doors. Stay. Open. Those were the words, signed by Cecile Richards, sent out to the Planned Parenthood Action Fund email list the morning after Donald Trump was elected. The emails to supporters, the mobilization for action, and the fears for the future haven’t stopped in the days since.

While abortion has been a hot-button issue since before Planned Parenthood’s founding 100 years ago, the health care provider has been dealing with a resurgence of bad press since the video scandal of 2015. Since then, the health care provider has dealt with a shooting in Colorado, and a threat of widespread clinic closures after new abortion laws were passed in Texas. Those laws were struck down by the Supreme Court, a major victory for Planned Parenthood and its advocates.

However, the new administration brings a new wave of uncertainty. President-elect Trump reaffirmed his pro-life stance in his first post-election interview, casting doubt on the future of Roe v Wade. Vice president-elect Mike Pence was once called “a one-man crusade” to deny Planned Parenthood federal funding.

Planned Parenthood, supporters, and affiliated organizations have been active on social media the hashtag #standwithPP since the election.

Tory Mills, external affairs manager at Planned Parenthood of Knoxville, clarified what those two potential outcomes, an overturning of the Roe decision and federal defunding of Planned Parenthood, would mean for clinics across the nation.

In Trump’s words, “If Roe ever were overturned, it would go back to the states.” For some states, this would mean complete outlawing, something that hasn’t been seen in America since 1973.

“It would create a landscape like we’re already seeing in some states like Texas. We saw dramatic increases in the number of women forgoing birth control and other family planning needs. We actually saw a huge increase in the number of folks who were trying to give themselves abortions. We see this in other countries too, where abortion is illegal. The need for abortion does not go away; people just do it in an unsafe way,” Mills said.

#Prolife groups on Twitter have also been active, viewing the election of Donald Trump as a victory for their cause.

What would abortion made illegal mean for Planned Parenthood?

“I think the biggest concern is less for Planned Parenthood and more for our patients. We do so many things. I’m less concerned for Planned Parenthood; we just celebrated our hundredth anniversary, we are truly not going anywhere, but for the millions of people whom that would affect.”

Mills shared the 2008 statistic that 1 in 3 American women have abortions in their lifetime. As she said “abortion is a part of a lot of people’s lives.”

While overturning a Supreme Court decision would have a big impact, it’s a distant prospect for now. The more immediate consequence for Planned Parenthood to fear is the potential loss of federal funding.

Mills explained that some clinics do receive Title X funding that helps to provide family planning services on a sliding scale. The vast majority of federal money received by Planned Parenthood comes from Medicaid reimbursements. That means Planned Parenthood could be affected not just by defunding, but by cuts to Medicaid and potential repealing or amending of the Affordable Care Act.

Would revoking of funds at the federal level actually close Planned Parenthood health clinics?

“I think it depends on the Planned Parenthood. I think even if it doesn’t close centers, it doesn’t allow us to serve patients in the way that we want to and in the way that is so important to us by making sure that they can afford their birth control and that they’re getting the healthcare they want from the provider that they want,” Mills said.

With all the prospects on the horizon, one would think morale among those on the pro-choice side of the fence would be low. But Mills said in Knoxville, that hasn’t been the case.

“I think I’ve seen over 200 new volunteer applications come across my desk in a week. We had two guys who stopped by yesterday to drop by a handwritten note and a $20 bill. I think people are moving to action, and that is what I hope for, more than kind letters, more than notes, more than donations, I hope that we take this as a call to action.”

Action has been the theme of the emails sent out by Cecile Richards almost daily since the election. Action is also the overarching theme of those on the pro-life side of the fence. While Planned Parenthood is maintaining its stance of the last 100 years: ‘we aren’t going anywhere,’ the fears of what’s in the future aren’t going anywhere either.

 For a more in-depth version of my talk with Tory Mills, click below.

You can also view this story on Medium.com by clicking here.

Community Watchers Weigh in on Sex Offender Residency Requirements

All but a few Knox County elementary schools have registered sex offenders living within a mile. But according to a school security officer and a neighborhood watch leader, its not a problem in their communities.

If a parent found out that a registered sex offender was living 1,001 feet away from their child’s school, you might expect a reaction based out of fear. But for community watchdogs in Knoxville, fear is not often the case.

Most citizens are aware that a national sex offender registry exists. Those convicted of sexual offenses are usually required to register under the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA), which is a federal law. The Tennessee registry allows you to see a photo, an address, and information about why the person is on the registry.

Over 20 states have enacted residency restrictions for those on the registry. In Tennessee, no sex offender, regardless of whether their crime involved a minor, may live within 1,000 feet of any “public school, private or parochial school, licensed day care center, other child care facility, public park, playground, recreation center, or public athletic field available for use by the general public,” according to section 211 of Tennessee’s legislation.

Beyond that 1,000 feet, there’s wiggle room.

An investigation of the registry shows that of the 50 elementary schools in Knox County, all but seven have at least one registered offender living within a mile of school property, and all 50 have offenders within three miles. Presumably, this means convicted sex offenders living in the same neighborhoods as young children.

Jennifer Mirtes, head of Inskip Park and Pool Neighborhood Watch in North Knoxville, says her group is aware of both the offender locator and the 17 offenders living within a mile of Inskip Elementary School. The Inskip Community Association includes a watchlist with its monthly newsletter.

Mirtes said that while the close proximity concerns her as a community member, she’s never seen any problems occur in the neighborhood.

“I’ve been out trick or treating with my kids when they were little and those people kept their lights off,” she says.

Mirtes and the mission of the Inskip neighborhood watch group stress simply keeping an eye on the neighborhood so “bad elements know this is not the place to do business.” In terms of sex offenders, Mirtes’ watchful eye has never observed anything but compliance.

Tony Boles, one of two security officers at Pond Gap School in South Knoxville, says the residency requirement is fair, but “it could definitely be pushed back a few hundred feet.”

When Pond Gap has issues with people being on school property who shouldn’t be there, it’s never a sex offender issue.

“They know the laws. They’re smart people,” he said.

“Not to say there aren’t any in the area; there are. But we’ve never had an issue.”

How many registered offenders live nearby your neighborhood school? This map can show you both a one and three mile radius of any elementary school in Knox County

Knoxville City Council Saves $2 Million on New Garbage Contract

If you’re tired of Knoxville’s system of hauling four metal garbage cans to your curb week after week, the City Council has come to your rescue. The Council approved a new solid waste management contract at their latest meeting that’s going to save the city $2 million and save its homeowners three garbage cans’ worth of inconvenience.

The Knoxville City Council has approved a new solid waste management contract that could save the city nearly $2 million a year for the next seven years and take some of the pain out of garbage day for Knoxville homeowners.

The vote was unanimous apart from an abstention by Councilman Marshall Stair, whose law firm has represented Waste Connections of Tennessee, Inc.

Waste Connections was the winner out of four bidders for Knoxville’s solid waste needs, with a $2.9 million bid. That’s down from the $4.9 million current contract Waste Connections has held with the city for over a decade.

Why the drop in price?

According to Public Works Director Chad Weth, new garbage carts will be the star of the show.

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Public works director Chad Weth was present at Tuesday’s meeting to answer any questions the council might have about the waste contract.

At a meeting in September, the council voted to set aside the $2.9 million to purchase 60,000 new garbage receptacles. Knoxville residents will now be permitted one 95-gallon garbage carts to replace the four 32-gallon cans currently allowed.

Weth says this will save the city money in work time. A  semi-automated machine will dump waste out of the carts and into trucks, instead of individual workers hauling bags out of cans.

“It allows a more modern look, and that’s where the cost savings come from with the new haul-in contract.”

But the new contract will provide benefits for citizens as well.

“A lot of times people put garbage down in there, and it gets blown over, or an animal gets in it. These carts are standardized carts; they won’t allow that to happen,” Weth says.

Weth also mentioned the benefits of garbage not getting wet when it rains, and less litter from cans blowing over.

Finnbarr Saunders brought up concerns before the vote about the size of the cart and “perceived difficulty in moving it around.”

Weth assured the council that any person who has difficulty because of age or physical ability can apply for backdoor garbage service, which is free. Those interested can contact Knoxville’s 3-1-1 call center to apply or ask any questions about changes to solid waste services.  

The new contract is worth $3.8 million total and will take effect on January 1.

For an audio version of this web story, listen below:

Diversity Panel Speaks to Importance of LGBT Visibility on Campus

During a talk about increasing inclusion for all kinds of people in the Knoxville and University of Tennessee communities, LGBT advocate Shannon Herron expressed concerns about UT’s current climate.img_4470

A row of rainbow flags is flying outside of University of Tennessee’s College of Communication and Information in celebration of its annual Diversity & Inclusion week. Meanwhile, across campus, the UT Pride Center is fighting to keep their flags flying and their visibility on campus intact.

This Tuesday was “The Big Orange Sphere,” dedicated to inclusion within the UT community. The morning session panel was “Profiles in Courage,” showcasing community members who have forged paths in Knoxville for marginalized groups.

One of the panelists was Shannon Herron, CEO of All Out Knoxville.

Herron is an advocate for LGBT inclusion and visibility in Knoxville and an employee of the campus Center for Student Engagement. While a graduate student at UT, he started All Out Knoxville, an organization dedicated to connecting LGBT people in the area.

“My mission was to show people that you can be LGBT, and you can live in Knoxville, and that you can be happy here.”.

That organization is Knoxville wide, but recent events have called into question if the LGBT community on UT’s campus feels happy here. The Pride Center lost all funding over the summer after the Office of Diversity was defunded by the state. Vandalisms and an assault have occurred in the months since.

The latest hurdle for LGBT inclusion is a request by the administration to take down the flags flying out of the Pride Center windows. The administration cites a flag policy, but it’s been perceived as an attack on visibility.

Herron stressed the importance of visibility during the panel, echoing the sentiments of LGBT people who are still UT students. He agreed that recent events have hurt progress on campus.

“When I was in school, I did feel comfortable and safe here, and I do think that has stepped back.”

Herron’s original idea when founding All Out Knox was to provide a space for people who had left UT, since he felt UT provided them support while at school. Now that campus climate has changed, the organization might be changing as well.

“Going forward, I think a lot of our mission and focus will be on the students and how can we support them while they’re in school,” he says. “That community and their students are hurting right now, and I think we need to do everything that we can to support them.”

But a sense of belonging in the “Big Orange Sphere” for all LGBT Knoxville residents remains one of Herron’s top priorities.

“If everyone here at UT who’s LGBT graduates and moves away, who’s going to be here for the next generation of LGBT students?”

img_4466A full room of students listening to panelists share stories of their efforts to increase campus and community diversity.
img_4468The group behind the event poses for a photo op with the panelists. Shannon Herron is pictured second from the right.

City Council reviews parking appeal for new business (story for print)

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A debate over parking agreements raised questions about the use of old commercial properties in Knoxville that lack sufficient parking space.

The council voted 7-1 to deny an appeal by Lockett Road homeowner Maha Ayesh. Ms. Ayesh was appealing a unanimous decision by the Board of Zoning Appeals to allow Abridged Beer Company owner Jesse Bowers to amend the required number of parking spaces at his new restaurant from 43 to zero.

“The proposed establishment is described as a brewery and restaurant. I’m going to refer to it as bar, because that’s what I see it as, is a bar,” Ms. Ayesh said.

Neighbors voiced concerns about reckless driving, noise, and patrons parking on the street in front of their homes.

“It can’t be injurious to the neighborhood. We’re very concerned that it will be injurious.”

“I know I’m going to have people come down through my yard, maybe some of them will park in my yard,” said longtime resident Gene Herrill.

Mr. Bowers has reached an alternative parking agreement with Erin Presbyterian Church to allow restaurant goers to use their lot, a plan that offers little comfort to Lockett road residents. Neighbors noted that the church hosts regular Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and the restaurant will have hours on Sunday evenings.

The council noted the lack of other options; every establishment allowed in the general commercial zone requires parking that doesn’t exist at this property.

“The issue is really the parking, and it sounds like the opposition is really based on the use. There’s no use of this property without some type of variance,” said Councilman Marshall Stair.

The appeal was denied, and Abridged Beer Company will be allowed to continue its plans.

“It’s very disappointing,” said Reem Abdelrazek, who was there to support her neighbor’s appeal. “I feel like we were blindsided.”