Tennessee bill would force state to publicly name abortion doctors

By Stephen C. Webster
Monday, March 19, 2012 10:56 EDT
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A doctor deadpans at the camera. Photo: Shutterstock.com, all rights reserved.
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A new bill headed for a vote by a Tennessee House committee this week targets abortion providers by requiring the state’s Department of Health to publish detailed information about doctors on a public website.

Known as H.B. 3308, or the “Life Defense Act of 2012,” the bill would not actually level any real “defense” of human embryos. Instead, it would require the Tennessee Department of Health to publish more detailed information about abortions carried out in the state, including the names of doctors who performed them and the hospitals they work with.

It would also require detailed statistics on abortions, including time, date, the woman’s medical conditions at the time, the age of the fetus, the type of procedure performed, the location of the procedure, and the woman’s age, race and marital status, along with details on how many times she has been pregnant.

While all states collect some basic information on abortions, H.B. 3308 would make Tennessee’s reporting the most detailed in the nation.

While the bill’s proponents point to language in the legislative text that protects the identity of each patient, critics argue that the enhanced statistics reporting could be used to identify women who’ve had abortions in small, rural communities. They also fear for the doctors, some of whom have been targeted by radical anti-abortion activists.

While it may sound like paranoia to some, anti-abortion activists in a number of states have given cause for this level of concern before. Scott Roeder, a 53-year-old anti-abortion activist, was sentenced to life in prison in 2010 for the murder of Dr. George Tiller in a Kansas church. Officials later investigated whether the killing was connected to an underground network of radical anti-abortion activists who promote violence against women’s health clinics.

Abortion doctors have also recently been targeted with “wanted” posters from Operation Save America, an anti-abortion group spawned by the prolific Operation Rescue that mimicked controversial tactics used in the 1990s. That earlier campaign created posters showing the faces of Dr. David Gunn, Dr. George Patterson and Dr. John Britton, along with their home addresses. All of them were later murdered.

Tennessee’s H.B. 3308 was authored by state Rep. Matthew Hill (R), who said he took it up at the suggestion of Tennessee Right to Life, an anti-abortion group that publishes and promotes detailed information on abortions in the state. Hill did not respond to Raw Story’s request for comment.

A similar law passed by Oklahoma Republicans was ruled unconstitutional in 2010 because it addressed too many different subjects under a single subheader — meaning, basically, that it was struck down on a technicality. Tennessee’s legislature is similarly constrained to producing bills on a single subject, but H.B. 3308 appears to adhere to that guideline.

The bill goes up for a vote before a House committee on Wednesday.

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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