State representative Matthew Hill's controversial House Bill 3808, named the "Life Defense Act of 2012," has been toned down considerably, after being forced to defend its own life in the Health and Human Resources Committee last week.
The bill garnered national attention from physicians and women's health advocates concerned about a clause that would mandate the collection and publication of extensive information on doctors who perform abortions in Tennessee and the patients who receive them.
Critics called the bill an attempt to intimidate and terrorize women seeking abortions and to put a target on the backs of doctors who perform abortion procedures.
After a barrage of negative press, that provision was removed at the behest of Hill in last week's committee meeting.
"There are those who have used the power of reckless and false rhetoric to propel themselves to the national spotlight. They've been on national news programs spreading lies about me and about this bill and its intent," said Hill, before introducing an amendment to remove the controversial provision in last week's meeting.
"These individuals have attempted to dissuade me from taking a course that is best for the people of Tennessee and the culture of life that the majority of Tennesseans have said that they hold dear," continued Hill, who hails from Jonesborough in East Tennessee.
With that, Hill introduced an amendment to reduce the bill to one provision, which requires physicians who perform abortion procedures in Tennessee to have admitting privileges at a licensed hospital in the county or a county adjacent to the one where the abortion is performed.
"The amendment removes the reporting requirements of the original bill," Hill said. "That has become a distraction from the real purpose of this legislation, from the real concerns of this bill, which is women's health and safety."
Hill explained that the new bill would focus on providing "continuity of care" for women receiving abortion services.
"When a doctor is performing this kind of procedure on a patient, it's important that they have admitting privileges at a hospital," Hill said. "If something were to go wrong during an abortion procedure, the doctor could safely admit the patient into a hospital emergency room."
But even the neutered version of the bill drew cries of concern from fellow representatives.
"There's a wide variety of surgical procedures that are done in ambulatory surgical centers," said Representative Gary Odom of Nashville, "but only in the [case of abortions] are you requiring the physician to have hospital privileges.
"My concern is how easy it will be for someone to get those hospital privileges," Odom said. "The process is not simple. It can be a very lengthy process, and I'm concerned that's one of the goals here that's not being mentioned."
Barry Chase, executive director of Planned Parenthood of Greater Memphis, agrees.
"This [bill] has only one intention, and that is to create a barrier for women who want to terminate a pregnancy," he said. "Otherwise, they would make this for all physicians who work in ambulatory surgical centers."
The bill was recommended for passage with the inclusion of Hill's amendment and as of press time was scheduled to go before the Calendar and Rules Committee on Tuesday, March 27th.