NASHVILLE — A bill that would have posted online the names of physicians performing abortions and what opponents charged was potentially identifying information about women undergoing the procedure was stripped of the provisions in a House panel Wednesday amid growing controversy.
The sponsor, Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, accused critics of "spreading lies" on national television and slandering him by characterizing "me as a terrorist, murderer and more."
That has led to physical threats, he told House Health and Human Resources Committee members.
"I have referred those threats to proper authorities and some have requested protection for me from these who have been roused to violence by the actions of these irresponsible patrons of the culture of death," Hill charged during a sometimes tense hearing on the bill.
Hill moved an amendment deleting the provisions from the bill. The other provisions, he said, were a "distraction" from his main purpose which he describe as "addressing the real concerns of women's health ... safety."
The bill leaves intact a provision requiring doctors performing abortions at out-patient surgical centers have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.
Hill said that "from time to time there are complications" in abortions and there must be "continuity of care" if problems force a patient to go to a hospital.
"You can't do that if the doctor does not have admitting privileges," Hill said, later adding Tennessee has "physicians coming from all over the country to perform abortions ... and they do not have admitting privileges and that's a real safety concern."
Rep. Gary Odom, D-Nashville, who criticized Hill's legislation earlier this week on MSNBC, questioned Hill why he was singling out out-patient centers offering abortion services and not including other centers that offer other services ranging from eye to foot surgeries.
A patient going to an out-patient surgery center is advised "to go to the nearest emergency services or call 911" if complications crop up later, Odom said. "This is the same whether you're having eye surgery or foot surgery or any other of the types of surgery performed."
Challenged on Tennessee incidents involving post-abortion complications, Hill instead chose to look nationally.
"Quite frankly some women have died from complications from abortion," he said. "I don't want that to happen in Tennessee, and I know you don't want that to happen either."
Earlier, Hill bristled at what he said were mischaracterizations of the two provisions he dropped.
Odom has previously called the legislation "dangerous."
Jeff Teague, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee, recently told The Tennessean newspaper that "we've had physicians who provide abortion care murdered in the past few years -- I think this is an attempt to intimidate and allow for providers to be terrorized."
Hill said the state Health Department already collects demographic information on women obtaining abortions such as age, race, marital status, number of previous abortions and the "gestational" age of a fetus being aborted.
The information, however, is currently grouped in large regions of the state and not by county.
Speaking later, Teague he was pleased the information provides in the bill were removed, calling it "good that people spoke out and expressed their concern ... [about] safety and security."
Speaking later, Teague said he was relieved Hill dropped the provisions that would have made the names of physicians public and the county-by-county information for abortion recipients.
"It's good that people spoke out and expressed their concern ... [about] safety and security," he said.
Teague charged the admitting privilege provision in Hill's bill, which came from Tennessee Right to Life, "has nothing to do with patient safety or the good practice of medicine."
And he said Planned Parenthood's doctors and other staff are all "highly trained." But he noted that getting admitting privileges from hospitals "is a very long process."
Teague noted that "in some parts of the state it could have a very chilling effect," especially in rural areas where anti-abortion activists can apply pressure to hospitals.
Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...