Abortions drop in Tennessee amid ban

FILE - Anti-abortion demonstrators rally outside of the U.S. Supreme Court during the March for Life, Friday, Jan. 20, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

A recent report estimates fewer than 10 abortions per month were performed in Tennessee after the state's abortion ban was implemented in August 2022.

The #WeCount report, conducted by the Society of Family Planning, attempts to track abortion access by state after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to an abortion in a case known as Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization. Starting June 24, 2022, that decision placed abortion policy in the hands of the states, and Tennessee has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the nation as a result.

Prior to the Supreme Court's decision, an estimated monthly average of 1,195 abortions were provided per month in Tennessee, according to the report. Tennessee's abortion ban went into effect Aug. 25, 2022, and starting in September 2022, the report estimates that 10 or fewer abortions took place in Tennessee each remaining month in 2022.

Nationally, there were an average of 77,073 abortions per month in the post-Dobbs months compared to 82,270 per month before the decision. Although there has been an uptick in abortions in some states with less restrictive laws, it does not balance out the overall decrease in the procedure.

"This drop signals that many thousands of pregnant people living in states where abortion is banned and restricted were unable to obtain abortion care," the report states.

When compared to the number of abortions provided before to the Supreme Court's decision, Tennessee was among the states that saw the largest decline in the number of abortions during the six-month period following the Supreme Court's decision -- behind only Texas (which saw 15,540 fewer abortions) and Georgia (which saw 10,930 fewer abortions). The report estimates there were 6,560 fewer abortions provided in Tennessee in the post-Dobbs era when compared to before.

The Society of Family Planning, which produced the report, favors 'just and equitable abortion and contraception informed by science," according to its website.

Candy Clepper, president of Greater Chattanooga Right to Life, said in an email that the report indicates Tennessee's abortion law, called the Human Life Protection Act, is working as intended.

"It is saving women and children from the tragedy of abortion," Clepper said.

Until last week, Tennessee's new abortion law deemed any action to terminate a pregnancy a felony punishable up to 15 years in prison, with no exceptions.

A provision in the law allows physicians to mount an "affirmative defense" if charged criminally and argue the abortion was necessary to save the life of the mother. But unlike in most criminal cases, the law placed the burden of proof on the doctor, not on prosecutors -- a provision that has caused confusion and galvanized many medical providers to advocate for an amendment.

On Friday, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed into law a narrow exception for doctors to use their "reasonable medical" judgment in deciding whether providing the procedure can save the life of the pregnant woman or prevent major injury.

"This legislative session, Tennessee Right to Life and pro-life legislators were able to keep the law strong," Clepper said. "The legislation that passed clarified the current law without weakening it. It explicitly states that treatment for miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy and molar pregnancy are not violations under the law; and it changed the affirmative defense provision to an exception for those situations when a woman's life is at risk or there is risk of irreversible harm to a major bodily function."

While the new legal landscape has led to an overall decline in abortions, the report found that some states saw increases in the total number of abortions during the six-month period after the Dobbs decision compared to the months before. Florida saw the biggest increase, with 7,190 more abortions, followed by Illinois (6,840 more abortions), North Carolina (4,730 more abortions), Colorado (2,580 more abortions) and Michigan (2,490 more abortions), according to the report.

Mathilde Stubblefield, an attorney and mother in Nashville, was diagnosed and treated for an ectopic pregnancy while Tennessee's total abortion ban was in effect, according to a news release from the pro-abortion group Protect My Care. Stubblefield shared her feelings about abortion access in Tennessee in the news release, which was issued after Lee signed the new law allowing narrow exceptions for abortion.

"Women will still be forced to leave their home state and support systems to get medically necessary care," Stubblefield said. "The reality is many women in our state do not have the means or the ability to travel. Our laws doom them to continue dangerous pregnancies with potentially devastating consequences."

Data for the report is provided by clinics, private medical offices, hospitals and telehealth providers in the U.S. known to offer abortion care. It does not account any self-managed abortions that occur outside of the health care system.

Contact Elizabeth Fite at efite@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6673.