The State of Tennessee Needs to Know All About Your Abortion
Not content to sit idly by while states like Virginia, Georgia and Texas grab all the headlines about abortion, and since attacking teachers is so last year, the nice folks in the Tennessee legislature have decided to make a splash with the "Life Defense Act of 2012". As I'm sure you can gather from this noble title, Tennessee's Republican Representatives and Senators have once again decided to spend their taxpayer-funded time on abortion, one of the most critical issues facing our state (along with the Ten Commandments, creationism and the gay menace), while letting trivial matters like unemployment and environmental pollution simply take care of themselves.
But because of a 2000 Tennessee Supreme Court decision, our lawmakers have had to take a more circuitous route to "defending life".
In 1992, three groups (Planned Parenthood of Middle Tennessee, the ACLU of Tennessee, and the National ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project) challenged Tennessee's restrictive abortion statute. After eight long years of litigation, the state's highest court decided that the right to privacy contained in the Tennesseee Constitution was actually greater than that found in the United States Constitution, striking down the prohibition of second trimester abortions outside of a hospital, and the requirement that a woman be given state-mandated information by her physician three days before an abortion. The court also held that certain emergency exceptions infringed upon a woman's fundamental right to privacy by not permitting an immediate abortion necessary to protect her health. (Of course, this ruling has chapped the hides of Republicans for the last decade, and now that they're in control of the Governor's office and the legislature, there will be a referendum on the ballot in 2014 to nullify this decision.)
Until that time, though, our esteemed lawmakers have to look like they're doing something to justify their existence (and to deflect attention from allegations of driving drunk with guns and beating their wives), which is how we've ended up with the Life Defense Act making it out of committee to be debated on the House and Senate floors.
The bill has two main provisions, neither of which actually imposes any restrictions on abortion that would be unconstitutional, but which are clearly designed to intimidate both abortion providers and the women who seek out this legal and constitutionally-protected procedure.
The first provision requires any physician performing an abortion to have admitting privileges at a licensed hospital located in the county in which the abortion is performed or in a county adjacent to the county in which the abortion is performed. This sounds fairly innocuous, but it also serves no real purpose, other than to throw up another hurdle. I suppose the rationale is that, if complications develop after an abortion, the doctor who performed it should be able to admit his or her patient to the hospital. But any woman who does develop complications is going to go to the nearest ER anyway, and if it is determined to be necessary, will be admitted to the hospital by the attending ER physician. This is clearly a roundabout way of prohibiting otherwise qualified physicians from performing a legal medical procedure.
The second provision is the more problematic and potentially dangerous one. Keep in mind that there is already a requirement to keep a record of any abortion performed in the state of Tennessee. However, the new proposed law goes further in requiring all of the following information:
(A) Identification of the physician who performed the abortion and the physician's office, clinic, hospital or other facility where the abortion was performed;
(B) The county and state in which the woman resides;
(C) The woman's age, race and marital status;
(D) The number of prior pregnancies and prior abortions of the woman;
(E) The gestational age in number of weeks of the unborn child at the time of the abortion;
(F) The type of procedure performed or prescribed and the date of the abortion; and
(G) Pre-existing medical conditions of the woman that would complicate pregnancy, if any, and, if known, any medical complications that resulted from the abortion itself.
The bill goes on to state: The report will be available for public inspection and copying and posted on the health department's website.
The bill also includes this helpful language: Such report must not lead to the disclosure of the identity of any person filing a report or about whom a report is filed.
Except when it does!
If this law passes, all it will take is is a couple of clicks to find out who is performing abortions in the state of Tennessee, and exactly where they spend the better part of their day. Great, let's just go ahead and do all of Operation Save America's legwork for them. I'm sure their "Wanted" list will grow by leaps and bounds. As a recent article in Jezebel stated, "There's no way this could possibly go wrong!" There is also some question as to whether or not doctors such as obstetricians, who often perform D&Cs in the event of miscarriages or other emergencies, would be subject to this reporting requirement.
The bill may not run afoul of HIPAA regulations, as it doesn't disclose the name of any woman having an abortion, but with all of that demographic information, it certainly comes close. And in a place like Lake County, Tennessee, with a population of about 8,000, it wouldn't be that difficult for someone who was really interested to be able to figure out if that "slut" who works in the local diner has had an abortion.
Brian Hill, president of Tennessee Right to Life, who suggested the bill to its sponsor, Republican Representative Matthew Hill, has said that, "I think it's fair to folks on both sides to see how prevalent abortion is in our counties and in our communities." Well, isn't that nice of him. He's doing this for "both sides"! I would refer Representative Hill to the Guttmacher Institute, which has been compiling abortion statistics for years, if he really wants to know how prevalent abortion is.
It is also worth noting that even some abortion opponents seem to be skeptical of the motivation behind this bill. I think that any rational person understands that, even if you don't agree that there is a right to privacy that makes abortion legal, you know that, as long as it is legal, the privacy of the people involved needs to be protected, just like it is for any other medical procedure.
You know, every law that is passed in the state of Tennessee ends with the following statement: This act shall take effect upon becoming a law, the public welfare requiring it.
I am having a hard time understanding what aspect of the public welfare is going to be served by this legislation.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Matthew Hill, has withdrawn the reporting and online posting provisions of the bill. The section regarding admitting privileges remains in the bill. Hill has reported receiving death threats, which any sane person would condemn. On the other hand, I believe Rep. Hill now knows what his proposed law may have done to other people.
This appears to be another case of overwhelming attention, generated by the internet, causing a legislator to back down. One hopes that this power will always be used responsibly and reasonably.