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Tennessee Legislature Cracks Down on Reproductive Rights

Teddy Wilson

Tennessee appears poised to increase restrictions on access to abortion care, as state lawmakers passed bills to mandate a 48-hour waiting period and increase regulation of clinics that provide abortion services.

Tennessee appears poised to increase restrictions on access to abortion care, as state lawmakers passed bills to mandate a 48-hour waiting period and increase regulation of clinics that provide abortion services.

HB 977, sponsored by Rep. Matthew Hill (R-Jonesborough), was previously amended to require a 48-hour waiting period and in-person counseling before a pregnant person could have an abortion.

Lawmakers in the house passed the bill Tuesday by a 79-18 vote. The senate had previously passed the bill by a 27-5 vote, however, because the house added an amendment, it now goes back to the senate for a concurrence vote.

Republicans have a commanding 28-5 senate majority in Tennessee, along with a 73-26 house advantage.

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An amendment offered by Democrats to allow women to receive by phone the state-mandated counseling required before the 48-hour waiting period was voted down by the GOP, along with an amendment to exempt rape or incest victims from waiting period requirements.

“The ultimate effect of this is putting an obstacle in the path of a woman seeking to exercise her constitutional right to an abortion,” said Rep. John Ray Clemmons (D-Nashville), reported the Nashville Tennessean.

If the bill is signed by the governor, Tennessee would join 26 other states that mandate waiting periods prior to having an abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

This year lawmakers in several other states have introduced bills to mandate waiting periods before an abortion, and in Oklahoma, lawmakers introduced a bill to increase the waiting period from 24 hours to 72 hours.

HB 1368, sponsored by Rep. Susan Lynn (R-Mt. Juliet), would require facilities in which more than 50 abortions are performed annually to be licensed as ambulatory surgical treatment centers, and require such offices to convert into mini-hospitalsa common legislative tactic among anti-choice legislators across the country.

The bill was passed by house lawmakers Tuesday by a 81-17 vote.

There are four abortion clinics in the state that meet ambulatory surgical treatment center standards, including one clinic in Nashville, two in Memphis, and one in Knoxville.

Medical organizations such as the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have opposed similar requirements for abortion facilities to meet ambulatory surgical treatment center standards, calling them “medically unnecessary.”

Bills to increase regulations of clinics that provide abortion servicesincluding targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) bills, physician reporting requirements, and other reporting mandateshave been introduced in state legislatures across the country.

A TRAP law passed in Texas has forced dozens of clinics to close in the state, and similar laws passed in states such as Oklahoma and Louisiana threaten to shutter clinics in those states. The Texas law is facing a legal challenge by reproductive rights advocates and awaits a ruling from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Proponents of the bills expressed vindication for supporters of Tennessee’s Amendment 1, a constitutional amendment approved by voters in November that allows state lawmakers to pass laws regulating abortion.

“It’s a happy day for every Tennessean who voted yes on Amendment 1,” Tennessee Right to Life President Brian Harris told the Chattanooga Times-Free Press. “The will of the people has been achieved. We’re finally going to see some common-sense protections.”

Jennifer Dalven, director of the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project, said in a statement that the bills are an attempt by lawmakers to prevent access to legal abortion care.

“No matter how we feel about abortion, we can agree that a woman who has decided to get an abortion should get safe, timely, compassionate care,” Dalven said. “Politicians shouldn’t be ignoring medical experts and passing laws designed to force clinics to shut down or to hinder a woman and to make her feel bad about her decision.”

Gov. Bill Haslam (R) is expected to sign the anti-choice bills.

“Like he does with all legislation that comes to him, he’ll review the bills in their final form before taking any action, but I anticipate he’ll sign them,” the governor’s spokesman, Dave Smith, told the Nashville Tennessean.

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