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VOL. 130 | NO. 64 | Thursday, April 2, 2015


Sam Stockard

Anti-Abortion Legislation Finds Little Resistance

SAM STOCKARD | Nashville Correspondent

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Buoyed by passage of Amendment 1 last fall, legislation restricting abortions is starting to roll – with relative ease – through the General Assembly.

Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet, and Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, began the push recently with measures backed by Gov. Bill Haslam, House Speaker Beth Harwell, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and the Republican ranks. Their bills couldn’t even draw enough resistance to require a roll-call vote.

Amendment 1’s passage in November 2014 gives the Legislature authority to enact, amend or repeal abortion laws, not limited to circumstances dealing with pregnancy from rape or incest or when the mother’s life is endangered.

“I think the speaker and the lieutenant governor have it right, that the focus they have on three issues around abortion that were in place before Sundquist v. Planned Parenthood 14 years ago are the things to go back to in terms of informed consent, a waiting period and inspection of facilities,” Haslam said.

Thought and time

Hill’s House Bill 977 would restore two statutes lawmakers adopted in 1978 but eliminated in the 2001 Tennessee Supreme Court decision:

  • Informed consent, which would require abortion clinics to provide women with complete information about the procedure.
  • A 48-hour waiting period from the time a woman consults with a physician who would perform the procedure until it is done.

Rep. John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville, in a recent House Health subcommittee meeting, challenged Hill on his bill, asking if he intended to put a “substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion of a non-viable fetus” and make the procedure more expensive.

Hill, whose bill would require a 48-hour waiting period except in cases of medical emergencies, acknowledges he has no data showing whether women seeking abortions don’t have the information they need to make the decision, but he contends the decision is “so weighty and so serious” that all information should be given and more time allowed for the woman to process it.

Hill argues he wants state law to return to the statutes adopted under Democratic majorities in the House, Senate and governor’s office in 1978 in a “bipartisan fashion.”

But, Clemmons queried: “Would you agree that medical procedures have advanced since that time and that the procedure is vastly safer today?”

“It’s not safer to the unborn child,” Hill responded.

Clemmons points out 91.5 percent of abortions performed in Tennessee take place in the first trimester, calling Hill’s legislation “misdirected” because it consistently uses the term “unborn child” rather than “non-viable fetus.”

Hill, however, contends the bill’s language reflects medical advancements “to identify the unborn child as just that, an unborn child.”

Licensing and inspection

Lynn’s legislation would require facilities performing more than 50 abortions a year to be licensed as ambulatory surgery centers by the Tennessee Department of Health.

“This is really keeping our promise for Amendment 1 to our Tennessee Constitution,” Lynn said.

Previous court rulings held such licensing and inspections infringed on a person’s right to seek an abortion, she said.

Clemmons also challenges Lynn on her bill, saying there are two such facilities and asking if her intent is to shut them down and make it more difficult for a woman to get an abortion.

Lynn says Tennessee has eight facilities advertising abortion services, four of which aren’t licensed with the state.

“This is about protecting women’s health,” Lynn said. “It’s very important when you’re having such an invasive procedure that we know the facility is operating properly, that they are inspected, that it’s clean, all of that. Abortion is a very invasive procedure, and it can be dangerous. And it can have lifelong health effects.”

Pros and cons

Planned Parenthood Executive Director Jeff Teague says the bills will do nothing to improve the safety of women, and he’s concerned they’ll pass because of GOP supermajorities in both houses.

“It’s ultimately going to eliminate access to safe, legal abortions in the state,” he said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reports abortion has a 99 percent safety record, making it one of the safest medical procedures a woman can receive, Teague said.

However, Frances Arthur, a volunteer and part-time worker with Tennessee Right to Life, says any facility performing invasive procedures such as abortion should be inspected and licensed.

She also contends such “major decisions” should be based on logic and information, not emotion.

Women can “take the information that they’re given and think about that, consider it, find any resources they might need to make that decision and then make the very best possible decision for them, whether it’s for or against the procedure,” she said.

‘Ultrasound’ bill delayed

Out for this session is legislation sponsored by Rep. Rick Womick requiring abortion clinics to give ultrasounds.

The Murfreesboro Republican on Tuesday persuaded the panel to reschedule the bill for the subcommittee’s first meeting of 2016.

Gov. Haslam says he and his legal staff have concerns about the bill’s legality. A similar measure in North Carolina was found to be unconstitutional.

As initially filed, it would require clinics to display the images on a monitor so the woman can see them and “verbally offer” the woman the opportunity to see the image and receive a copy of the image.

In case the woman refuses to look at the ultrasound image, the clinic would be required to give an explanation of the ultrasound images, including a medical description of the dimensions of the embryo or fetus, cardiac activity and details about arms, legs and organs.

It also would mandate women be given a printout and description of the screen in case they don’t want to view it, and make the embryo or fetus heartbeat audible for the pregnant woman to hear.

Murfreesboro resident Chloe Cerutti, who attended a January women’s march of some 500 people at the Legislative Plaza in Nashville, said Planned Parenthood clinics in Tennessee already do ultrasounds to check the woman’s condition and provide a full disclaimer before a surgical procedure takes place.

Cerutti contends Womick’s bill is “another way to try to impede or coerce women into not getting an abortion. It is a law that is not needed.”

Furthermore, she said it is “inappropriate” for Womick to assume a woman “does not know her own mind or what her options are before she seeks an abortion.”

In the eyes of many, that is where the battle line is drawn: whether a woman or the state should make the decision.

Sam Stockard can be reached at sstockard44@gmail.com.

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