Tennessee Abortion Bill; Defending Life, Or Enabling Bullies?

When I first read a headline regarding a new bill, which Tennessee lawmakers dubbed the “Life Defense Act of 2012.” I was almost fooled into supporting the concept without even reading the article. I’m extraordinarily thankful that I chose to actually read the article that had framed the bill as one that would simply, “require publishing names of doctors,” because I soon saw this to be another obvious assault in the War on Women.

Apparently the Tennessee Health Department already collects statistics regarding the doctors who perform abortions in their state as well as the women who have the procedure. I have no objection to this. I think that there is value in understanding abortion. I think that people on both sides of this argument have all kinds of ideas about what they think abortion is, and who they think has them. As someone who has attempted to write about abortion before, I’ve often been frustrated with a lack of clear-cut numbers and I would be thrilled to have the data on hand to prove how rare I suspect late-term abortions to be.


The first concern that I have with this bill is actually the same thing that I tell myself as I get frustrated trying to research abortion data, we don’t have this information out there for a reason. We don’t just post this kind of identifying medical information out there for all to see and judge.  The bill would put all kinds of information out for public scrutiny, that I wouldn’t want out there if I were simply going in to ask for allergy medicine.

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Consider the information that this law would make public:

(A) Identification of the physician who performed the abortion and the physician’s office, clinic, hospital or other facility where the abortion was performed
(B) The county and state in which the woman resides;
(C) The woman’s age, race and marital status;
(D) The number of prior pregnancies and prior abortions of the woman;
(F) The gestational age in number of weeks of the unborn child at the time of the abortion;
(G) The type of procedure performed or prescribed and the date of the abortion; and
(H) Pre-existing medical conditions of the woman that would complicate pregnancy, if any, and, if known, any medical complication that resulted from the abortion itself.

When you consider that in the state of Tennessee more than 35% of the population lives in rural areas, you can imagine just how damaging this kind of information could be. One would think that even if the people of Tennessee actually have a majority fraught with pro-life enthusiasts, then they’d still have the sense to see that in small towns and rural communities, this amount of information is the same as publishing the woman’s name, or very nearly so.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that if anything, this bill puts life and liberty at risk. It tells what I can only assume to be a small group of crazies who would hound wounded women, that they are welcome to do so by providing them with a launch point for their hatred and misunderstanding. I say this, highly doubting that the majority of people in Tennessee could possibly support the public shaming of women who made a difficult choice. If one assumes, like I do, that the majority of Tennessee voters are not rabid pro-lifers and that they are reasonable people who’d object to the public humiliation of a fellow human being, then it seems that the lawmakers are not representing the majority. They are not representing the women who have abortions, and by reporting on things after the fact they aren’t preventing abortion. In fact the only people this law provides a legal platform to, would be pro-life bullies. Who else has anything to gain?

For a millisecond, maybe, it seems as though the realm of free information could gain. I mean, I am always in favor of more information, and more facts. As a skeptic of statistics, I find that I am almost always comforted when I see complete and inclusive data sets. But I find myself weighing the desire for information against the rights of each individual who’d have their private information put out for all to see, and I find the answer in the title of this bill. It isn’t, an act in “Freedom of Information,” or and effort at “Transparency in Government.” It’s an act that is clearly labeled with GOP rhetoric as something that makes every effort to identify women who obtain abortions for the purposes of shaming them. My opinion on this “Life Defense Act” is that it seems more aptly named as the “Right to Bully Act.”

If you are pro-choice, or even undecided on this subject, I’d assume that you won’t support this bill because it makes no more sense to disclose this information than it would if the women were getting hangnails removed, or prescriptions for allergy medication. No matter how you frame it, it isn’t okay to disclose other people’s private medical information. If you’re in favor of it because you are worried that abortions are being paid for by government funds or something, you need to do more research and find that abortions simply aren’t paid for with tax dollar money, ever.  If you’re in favor of it because you want to make it harder for women to get an abortion, and live with themselves afterward, then I think that you are a bully who ought to put your rocks in your pockets and enjoy the view from your glass house for a little while.