Red State Round Up: Tennessee

The Tennessee House is currently considering HB 3808, “The Life Defense Act” introduced by Republican Representative Matthew Hill.  It cleared subcommittee on March 6 with a vote of 8-5 and passed the Health and Human Resources Committee this Wednesday, March 21. It is now being scheduled for a vote on the House floor.

The bill as originally introduced would require the state Health Department to publish on its website the report of every abortion that takes place in Tennessee including the name of the doctor, the facility where the procedure takes place and information on the woman obtaining the abortion. Although the woman’s name would not be posted; her county, age, race, marital status, number of prior pregnancies, number of prior abortions, the gestational age of the fetus and her preexisting medical conditions would all be published making her easily identifiable. Additionally, the bill restricts abortion providers by requiring that the doctor who performs the abortion at outpatient surgical centers must have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. Admitting privileges is the right of a physician who is a member of the hospital’s medical staff to admit patients to that hospital. People are either admitted to a hospital in this way or they can go to the emergency room and are admitted from there. If you are admitted to the hospital from the emergency room and your doctor does not have admitting privileges, you will be under the primary care of a physician associated with the hospital but your physician will often be allowed to consult.

Faced with an outpouring of criticism on the bill, Representative Hill withdrew the requirement publishing information on physicians and patients on the Health Department’s website, a true victory for any who believe in the principles of privacy, doctor-patient privilege and the right of women to legal medical treatment. This anti-choice, anti-abortion bill was both unconstitutional and detestable in its attempt to intimidate women and doctors.  It took a matter that should be between a patient and her doctor and sought to publish the medical details online for the public. This would be dangerous for both the patient and the doctor. Although the patient’s name itself would not be posted, with the extremely detailed amount of information on her demographics and her medical history, identification would certainly be possible, especially in rural areas of Tennessee. This could have resulted in the terrorization of women for having a medical procedure that is a constitutional right.

Additionally, the physicians’ names would have been listed online as well as their facility. Considering the extreme intimidation and violent actions against abortion providers in the past, publishing the names of such physicians is an invitation for harassment at the very least and violence at the worst. The first reported clinic arson was in 1976 and a series of bombings occurred in 1978. A string of continued arsons, bombings, the use of chemicals to vandalize clinics and the sending of anthrax threat letters to frighten clinic staff followed and continues to this day. In 1993, the first abortion provider was murdered and since then there have been seven murders and numerous attempted murders of physicians, clinic staff, and policemen guarding the entrance of clinics in the face of violent protestors. Most recently, Dr. George Tiller was shot and killed in his church in Wichita, Kansas in May of 2009. Dr. Tiller believed in a strong pro-choice, pro-woman political operation and inspired executive director Julie Burkhart to launch Trust Women to carry on the vision that Dr. George Tiller had for women of the world.

Even Tennessee’s anti-abortion Republican and the General Assembly’s only physician Representative Joey Hensley said he would not support the bill. He acknowledged that under the introduced form of the bill many physicians, including obstetricians, could wind up on the published lists because of procedures they use to treat women who have had miscarriages. The Tennessee Medical Association also opposed the bill.  Tennessee Medical Association Vice President Russ Miller explained their issues with the bill stating, “What concerns us most [is] the safety of physicians in our state, the healthcare providers and their families.” The Tennessee Medical Association believed the original bill would create problems with regard to personal and professional privacy for physicians as well as pose safety issues for physicians and their patients and did not improve the care of patients in Tennessee.

With the removal of the publication requirement, the current bill retains the restriction that doctors who perform abortions must have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.  This restriction is just that: a medically unnecessary restriction meant to prevent the number of women who have access to abortion. Currently patients who go to outpatient surgery centers where doctors are not affiliated with nearby hospitals are advised to go to the nearest emergency services or call 911 if complicates arise. As this is the standard for outpatient surgeries, it should be the standard applied for all outpatient surgeries including abortion or should change for all of them.  In this bill, only abortion is targeted.

Keri Adams of Planned Parenthood said, “[This bill] is a targeted restriction on providers of abortion services. It only requires admitting privileges for doctors who provide abortion. What about other doctors who perform other outpatients’ surgeries?”

Although we won a victory with the withdrawal of HB 3808’s provisions that the information of physicians performing abortions and women receiving abortions be published online in clear violation of patient-doctor confidentiality and our 14th Amendment right to privacy, the bill still places restrictions on abortion that unjustly singles it out from other outpatient surgeries. This bill is just one of dozens of bills introduced across the country that’s purpose is to prevent women from receiving medical care, despite the clear legality of abortion.

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