Tennessee bill would direct state Health Department to post a report of every abortion

Under consideration in the state legislature of Tennessee right now is a bill — the Life Defense Act of 2012 — that would direct the state Health Department to post a report of every abortion. Not surprisingly, the bill has already become a source of controversy:

The reports must include the “identification of the physician who performed the abortion and the physician’s office, clinic, hospital or other facility where the abortion was performed,” according to the official summary of the bill.

Chas Sisk of the Nashville Tennessean reports that abortion-rights advocates are worried that this could result in the intimidation of doctors, given violent acts against abortion providers in the past.

Although the bill states that patients will not be identified in the reports, it says the documents must include the woman’s county, age, race, marital status, plus her number of prior pregnancies, number of prior abortions, the gestational age of the fetus, and her preexisting medical conditions. That, critics say, could make it easy to guess identities, particularly in sparsely populated rural areas.

The sponsor of the bill, Matthew Hill, is a Republican state representative from the east Tennessee town of Jonesborough.

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

In general, I’m highly in favor of state-level measures to deter abortion up to and even including personhood amendments, but this one stumps me. Right now, the law treats abortion as just another medical procedure. To direct the state Health Department to publish the details of a medical procedure in this way sets a dangerous precedent. Would we want the state Health Department to publish records of every medical procedure we receive? While I don’t want to invoke that awful “right to privacy” that abortion advocates pretend gives women the right to kill their unborn children, if ever a “right to privacy” existed, wouldn’t it be in relation to doctor-patient privilege?

The problem, of course, is that the law treats abortion as just a medical procedure, rather than the elimination of an innocent life. The criminalization of abortion is probably a long way off, but, in the meantime, a variety of less-drastic, pro-life legal measures can at least create or advance the awareness that a fetus is actually a human person with the right to life. Ultrasound requirements, for example, have that as their aim. So, too, do parental consent laws. But this new measure seems to have a different, less sympathetic aim: To shame doctors who perform abortions and to shame women who seek them. But I worry that such a law would do less to change the hearts and minds of abortion advocates than to harden in them the denial of the very awareness of reality we seek to awaken in them.

Let’s hope the Tennessee legislature proceeds cautiously on this one.

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