Bill could mandate publication of abortion data

A bill considered by a Tennessee State House committee would require the publication of data on abortions, according to the Tennessean. Doctors who perform abortions could see their names listed in the data base and women who receive an abortion could have their identities “unintentionally” revealed.

State lawmakers are debating a measure that would require the Department of Health to publish more details about abortions, bringing Tennessee into a roiling, state-by-state battle over how to regulate abortion procedures.

Supporters say the bill, scheduled to come up Wednesday in a state House committee, only requires state health officials to post information online that they already collect. But critics say the measure is intended to intimidate women and doctors involved in abortions, even in emergency situations.

“I think publicizing this information will do nothing but cause serious consequences,” said state Rep. Gary Odom, D-Nashville. “This is dangerous. This is a dangerous piece of legislation.”

Known as the Life Defense Act of 2012, or House Bill 3808, the measure gives Tennessee lawmakers a rare opportunity to tighten regulations on abortion, which the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled in 2000 is a right protected by the state constitution.

That ruling has kept Tennessee lawmakers from considering controversial proposals floated elsewhere in the nation, such as a new law in Virginia going into effect July 1 that will require women to receive an ultrasound before abortions. Similar measures have passed in Oklahoma, North Carolina and Texas, although court challenges to them are pending.

The Life Defense Act contains two parts. The first would require doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital near where they perform abortions, while the second would require the Department of Health to release more information on abortions, including the name of the doctor who performed the procedure and demographics about the women who receive them.

The measure’s sponsor, Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, said at an initial hearing on the bill earlier this month that the reporting requirement writes into law a form that the Department of Health already asks providers to fill out whenever they perform an abortion.

“The Department of Health already collects all of the data, but they don’t publish it,” he said. “All we’re asking is that the data they already collect be made public.”

Hill said the bill was suggested by Tennessee Right to Life, an anti-abortion group. Brian Harris, the group’s president, said the bill would give people better information about abortion in Tennessee.

I think it’s fair for folks on both sides to see how prevalent abortion is in our counties and in our communities,” he said.

So, the potential to violate a woman’s right to privacy should be placed on the back burner because this politician feels it’s imperative the public be given data on abortion in their communities?

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The bill would require the publication of data — including the age, race, education and number of children — of women who receive abortions. The Department of Health reports such information, but it aggregates the data by region, making it impossible for others to figure out who underwent an abortion procedure.

The Life Defense Act attempts to protect patient privacy by requiring state health officials to keep the names of those who receive abortions private.

But the bill also requires the Department of Health to release patient data broken down by county. Critics say that could reveal the identities of some women who receive abortions, particularly in small, rural communities.

“We have many small counties in the state,” Odom said. “There’s going to be circumstances where that woman’s going to be identified in that county.”

The bill also could endanger doctors who perform abortions, opponents say. For the first time, state health officials would have to gather the names of doctors who perform abortion procedures. That information could be used by abortion opponents to target those doctors, foes of the bill say.

Abortion specialists are not the only doctors who would have to submit such information. Opponents say other practitioners, such as obstetricians who perform abortion procedures during emergencies or miscarriages, would also have to report their involvement.

What about women who live in small, rural communities? Anyone who grew up in a small community knows rumors and facts travel as fast as wildfires and the likelihood of a woman being “outed” for obtaining an abortion is highly probable under this bill.

It never ceases to amaze me how Republican lawmakers have completely turned the other cheek on a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion of a fetus. Tennessee is just another example of Republican-dominated state legislatures set on shoving their reactionary, anti-woman agenda down the throats of their constituents. Not to even mention how these doctors could be placed in danger by having their identities revealed to the public at large. Anti-abortion wackos who believe it’s their moral and American duty to protect unborn fetuses most likely would feel emboldened to act out their violent rhetoric.

This type of rampant, systemic abuse and ignorance of a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion should not be ignored by women’s rights activists and our allies come November. It’s imperative we make these anti-woman, anti-choice reactionary activists know our constitutional right to privacy and to an abortion is not something they can toss around like a political football, only to be used for election year politics. Our right to an abortion should not and will not be a social issue trump card they can willfully pull out to convince the social conservative vote to remain in their corner.

A woman’s uterus is not a wedge issue these politicians can use to score points with groups who are committed to relegating women back into a second-class citizenship reminiscent of 1950s-era patriarchy.