Tennessee lawmakers will consider a controversial measure on Wednesday that could intimidate women seeking abortions by requiring that the names of doctors who perform the procedures be published online. The legislation, known as the Life Defense Act of 2012 or House Bill 3808, would restrict access to the procedure in two ways:
The first would require doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital near where they perform abortions, while the second would require the Department of Health to release more information on abortions, including the name of the doctor who performed the procedure and demographics about the women who receive them.
The measure’s sponsor, Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, said at an initial hearing on the bill earlier this month that the reporting requirement writes into law a form that the Department of Health already asks providers to fill out whenever they perform an abortion.
“The Department of Health already collects all of the data, but they don’t publish it,” he said. “All we’re asking is that the data they already collect be made public.”
But the measure goes beyond existing reporting requirements and could undermine women’s right to privacy by allowing opponents to identify — harass and intimidate — patients who undergo the procedure.
The state’s Department of Health already reports information on the age, race, education, and number of children of women who receive abortions, and aggregates the data by region, “making it impossible for others to figure out who underwent an abortion procedure.” This bill, however, would require the department “to release patient data broken down by county” and could “reveal the identities of some women who receive abortions, particularly in small, rural communities.” “I think in some small communities that woman would be identified,” State Rep. Gary Odom (D) warned when a subcommittee advanced the measure earlier this month. “I think that by publicizing this, it would have serious consequences. … We know what has happened to physicians who perform abortions that there has been violence. … There could be violence against the women. … This is a dangerous piece of legislation. … I think this is full of meanness.”
Abortion providers could also be at risk, as abortion foes would now have a comprehensive list of the names of the doctors who perform the procedure. “In an environment where doctors are victims of violence — and we’ve had physicians who provide abortion care murdered in the past few years — I think this is an attempt to intimidate and allow for providers to be terrorized,” said Jeff Teague, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee.