Anti-abortion forces and Republican legislators who pander to them have repeatedly proposed stricter and harsher laws in state legislatures in recent years. Their purpose is always to make it increasingly difficult for women to get abortions and for physicians to provide them. The bill presently promoted by state Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, in the House reflects more insidious tactics to hamper the legal abortions that are mainly sought by women in desperate straits.
Rep. Hill's bill, to be sure, was more extreme earlier this week than it is now, but that's really just a question of degree. Following rising controversy, a House panel has stripped two highly controversial provisions.
One would have targeted physicians by requiring them to be publicly listed online as doctors in Tennessee who perform abortions. The other would have required state health officials to publicly provide detailed information about women who receive abortions -- including their age, race and the county in which they reside, plus information about the "gestational" age of the fetus and personal information about a woman's educational level and past pregnancies and abortions.
The first of these provisions would have exposed doctors to the potential violence of anti-abortion extremists, who in several instances around the country have stalked and killed doctors who have performed abortions, and have wounded or terrorized others. Rep. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, a physician, further argued that it would have identified and endangered physicians and obstetricians who might have to use procedures for miscarriages that could wrongly be classified as abortions.
Similarly, the high degree of personal information about women having abortions that would have been made public could have been easily used in many rural counties to identify and harass individual women.
These were essentially punitive measures. They obviously were meant to intimidate both physicians and women. They never should have put before the Legislature, and they were properly stripped amid rising controversy.
The major remaining provision in the bill also should be withdrawn. It seeks simply to hinder physicians from performing abortions and to hinder access by women to their services. It has nothing to do, as Rep. Hill claims, with "addressing the real concerns of women's health ...(and) safety." In fact, it likely would do the opposite.
This provision would require physicians who perform abortions at out-patient clinics to obtain and hold admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga, a registered nurse and member of the Health and Human Resources Committee, noted that there's no need for such a rule because "any physician, as part of their protocol, would have a referral process in place if a person needed a referral to a hospital." Indeed, most out-patient surgical clinics routinely instruct their patients to see emergency care at a hospital if the need arises.
Hill's proposal to require physicians to obtain admitting privileges ignores the fact that gaining such status is time-consuming and requires an on-going relationship with a local hospital. Hill simply means to use the provision as a tool to prevent clinics that provide abortions from using the services of visiting doctors. That need has arisen because local doctors in many locales have been intimidated by local anti-abortion forces from providing abortions at out-patient clinics.
Such anti-abortion measures have forced clinics in many states to shut their doors. That's what Hill and his cohorts want to happen in Tennessee. Problem is, such measures do not eliminate the demand for abortion by women -- and never did when abortions were illegal before the Roe v. Wade ruling of 1973. They just force more women to take more risks to get one.
The most effective antidote to abortions, by far, has been proven to be family planning centers, and contraceptive services. If the Legislature really wants to prevent abortions, it will focus on enhancing those services.