Tennessee Bill Would Target Doctors, Shame Women into Avoiding Abortion

A new bill in Tennessee could target doctors.A new bill in Tennessee could target doctors.A new bill under consideration in Tennessee would require any doctors who perform abortions in the state to have their names and offices listed online, and would also publish detailed information about the women who have undergone the procedure for any reason and at any stage of pregnancy, making their private lives a matter of public record.

Opponents of House Bill 3808, also known as the Life Defense Act, say that publishing doctor's names could put them in danger, and releasing the demographic data could make it too easy for people to identify and harass patients.

"I think publicizing this information will do nothing but cause serious consequences," Democratic state Representative Gary Odom told The Tennessean. "This is dangerous. This is a dangerous piece of legislation."

Even doctors who perform D&Cs after miscarriages or who perform abortions in life-threatening or emergency situations would have to have their names published, making them a target for protesters and vigilantes -- like Dr. James Tiller, who was gunned down by an anti-abortion activist while serving as an usher in his Kansas church in 2009.

"In an environment where doctors are victims of violence - and we've had physicians who provide abortion care murdered in the past few years - I think this is an attempt to intimidate and allow for providers to be terrorized," Jeff Teague, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee, told The Tennessean.

The bill's sponsor, Republican state Representative Matthew Hill, pointed out earlier this month that the bill only asks to make public data that the state Department of health already collects -- things like the patient's age, race, marital status, education, number of living children, number of prior pregnancies, and the county in which the patient lives. Right now the information, which is currently unpublished, is reported by region, which makes it difficult to match people to the demographic profiles. The new bill, however, requires that the information "be available for public inspection and copying and shall be posted on the department's web site" and that the Department of Health publish the data county by county. Even without releasing their names, the women who live in small counties or rural areas would be easy to identify.

According to Hill, the bill was suggested to him by anti-abortion group Tennessee Right to Life; the organization's president, Bill Harris, said that the point was to give people more information about "how prevalent abortion is in our counties and in our communities."

If the intent is to shame people into avoiding abortion, the bill seems to be missing a key factor: It only calls for information about the female patient has to be published. Why not identify the men who have impregnated them as well?

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