June 12, 2021

Tennessee Continues Attempts to Restrict Access to Abortions

A new bill that has inspired controversy upon arrival in the Tennessee courts would allow for the father (if proven by a paternity test) to “veto” any abortion the pregnant person can attempt to have. This bill does not include any exceptions for victims of rape or incest.

This bill is the latest of the Tennessee General Assembly’s attempts to restrict access to abortions, which have been nonstop over the past few years. In 2019, they attempted to pass HB 77, a controversial bill calling for a ban on abortions after a fetal heartbeat could be detected, on the House floor. It passed on a vote of 66-21, but was restricted by the federal courts.

“I’m not concerned about this bill actually going through,” said Karin Rosenvinge, the medical lab manager at Knoxville Reproductive Center. “We’ve had less patients than usual this winter season and abortion is down nationwide, but the work here is needed.”

As Rosenvinge said, most abortion restriction laws that have been passed in Tennessee are fighting an uphill battle with the federal courts due to Roe v. Wade. However, this does not mean the laws do not have an effect on those who seek an abortion in the state of Tennessee. According to Johnston’s Archive, which shows a historical view of abortion rates in the state of Tennessee, the number of abortions per year has decreased at a steady but rapid rate. The last year in which there was an increase was in 2008, when 18,253 abortions were performed. In 2018, there were 10,880, nearly a 41% decline.

“Abortion is looked down upon in Tennessee, certainly,” said Riley Thompson, a junior UT student. “There is a lack of understanding towards the procedure and the women who are going for them. People definitely look down upon women and see them as too ignorant to be sure what is correct for them and for their future.”

Another aspect of abortion rights issues that instills fear in people seeking to terminate their pregnancy is the intensity surrounding it- it often escalates to violence. This year, on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, gunshots were fired into the Planned Parenthood located in Knoxville on Magnolia Avenue.

“Pro-life has always been about control and never about protecting life, or there would never have been a shooting in the first place,” Thompson continued.

Restrictions and stigmatization don’t actually prevent abortions, but rather create scenarios where women seek unsafe or illegal means to abort.

This aligns with the World Health Organization’s data. According to the WHO, in countries where abortion is completely banned or permitted only to save the woman’s life or preserve her physical health, only one in four abortions were safe; whereas, in countries where abortion is legal on broader grounds, nearly nine in 10 abortions were done safely. Restricting access to abortions does not reduce the number of abortions.

Reproductive health in America has been a constant source of controversy with more conservative states, but reproductive healthcare workers wish for there to not be such a strong stigma around their line of work in these states.

“We get very good patient responses here, and I’ve been here since 2005,” Dr. Rosenvinge said on the topic of the general work done at Knoxville Reproductive Center. “There’s a nice atmosphere.”

With the Republican Party’s stronghold over the state of Tennessee’s government, it is likely this will not be the last of legislators’ attempts to restrict abortions. But as of this year, the state of Tennessee has not been able to pass any bills into law that could not be stopped in the federal courts by Roe vs. Wade.

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