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Q&A on Tennessee Abortion Bills



Tennessee women are two signatures away from having more hoops to jump through when it comes to terminating pregnancy, even if the patient is a victim of rape.

Two bills restricting abortion rights now await Governor Bill Haslam's signature. Both bills were swiftly drawn since voters in the state passed Amendment 1 in November, giving the General Assembly the power to amend, repeal, and enact bills regarding abortion.

One bill requires clinics that perform 50 or more abortions per year to be licensed ambulatory surgical treatment centers, which follow stricter and extensive standards. The two abortion clinics in Memphis — Planned Parenthood and CHOICES — are already licensed as such.

The other requires that abortion patients get counseling from physicians and enacts a 48-hour waiting period for all abortions, even for women who are seeking abortions after a rape. Rebecca Terrell is the executive director of CHOICES, and she took some time to discuss the provisions of this bill.

Alexandra Pusateri

Rebecca Terrell
  • Rebecca Terrell

Flyer: What is the main concern over the 48-hour waiting period?

Rebecca Terrell: The reason 48 hours is a big deal is because it's going to require clinics to build in a second physician's visit for a procedure. That's going to add cost. Who's going to pay that cost? The patient. If we have to add staff to our schedule, all of that adds money. That's the cost of care — that means additional cost to the patient.

That is the intent. This all comes out of the Americans United for Life playbook. It's a whole set of legislative templates that they sent around the country to all state legislatures, asking, "What can you get passed in your state?" And is their intent to provide better health care for women? No, their mission is to abolish abortion. It's no secret, except to the general public who doesn't have to live in this policy world all day and deal with these realities. Most people think these sound so innocuous, but the reality of all these barrier pieces of legislation is to make care harder to get and more expensive to provide.

Who will be affected most by this bill?

Low-income women are going to be the hardest hit, because they will be the least able to come up with the additional money. It means, for many people, taking a second day off of work, arranging childcare, travel, and transportation. Many of our patients are in the tri-county area, but some are not. For the ones who are not, they're traveling four hours to come, see us, then go home, and come back. Or they have to somehow figure out a way to stay, whichever would be cheaper for them. That's an enormous burden that's being added for no good reason.

What kind of "counseling" can be expected with this bill?

We've seen from the law some generic topics that need to be covered, but exactly what information will be relayed, we don't know yet. We know that in other states where this kind of law has passed, it tends to be played-up bad science, [for instance] relayed information about the relationship between breast cancer and abortions: things that have been disproven by studies, but that doesn't stop the state from requiring you to say it. There are laws across the country that are having the physician give false information to the patient. Because the intent of the bill is to dissuade people from having abortions, I would not be surprised to see language in there either shaming or scaring women away from the procedure.


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