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Why Reproductive Rights Advocates Need to Start Paying Attention to Tennessee

November 5, 2008

Many of you who are interested in protecting reproductive rights may be breathing a sigh of relief with the election of Barack Obama and the defeat of many ballot initiatives such as the abortion ban in South Dakota. I’m there with you, but I have a creeping concern. In Tennessee, not only did Obama carry just 6 of 95 counties and lose the state to McCain, but Republicans gained control of both the State House and Senate.

I suspect that if you want to know where to look for state restrictions over the next couple of years, you need to be watching the legislation introduced in my home state of Tennessee. A few reasons, including past performance of our legislature:

Just one day after the election, state Republicans are already talking about bringing back SJR127, which would amend our state constitution “to provide that nothing in Constitution of Tennessee secures or protects right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion.”

We re-elected Stacey Campfield, who exists to make me beat my head against the desk. Last year, Campfield proposed legislation that would have required death certificates to be issued for every abortion. No, he didn’t bother to address the privacy concerns of creating a set of vital records identifying women who have had abortions or the inconsistency that we do not issue death certificates for miscarriages – despite media coverage of this as “death certificates for fetuses,” only some fetuses would have been addressed. His responses to criticism on the bill were equally troublesome. And here’s a little more about that. And some more. Expect more from Campfield in the future.

When the HPV vaccine was approved, Republican legislators tried to take away the right to approve and recommend vaccines for school children from the Commissioner of Health (who has, you know, actual knowledge of public health and vaccines) give it to the Legislature (few members of which have any background in health or epidemiology). But only if the vaccine had to do with sexually transmitted diseases. As I said then, “I don’t think it’s too big of a stretch to assume that the legislature is not trying to capture these powers in order to have better influence on money spent on vaccines, or to ensure that appropriate health-promoting measures are taken – they’re doing it because of the ‘slut shot’ hype.”

When the CDC was reporting on deaths in a few patients who had medical abortions, our legislature tried to mandate warnings about “a drug that’s killing women,” without actually understanding or acknowledging the CDC’s lack of evidence of causation or the off-label use of the drug in those cases. They also tried to attach a forced ultrasound provision to the bill.

NARAL Pro-Choice America already gives Tennessee a D+ on reproductive rights. That was before the recent election.

Our Governor doesn’t care. When the constitutional amendment issue came up, he said that since it’s not up to him, he was just going to “let them do their thing.” That sounds like a man who takes things seriously, no?

And they want to defund Planned Parenthood.
[The blog I just referred you to is the personal blog of the communications director for the state GOP, by the way. He had something up this week about how “a vote for Obama does mean abetting the accelerated slaughter of the innocent unborn.” He also seriously tried to make a big deal out of Obama’s middle name, and yet he remains in this role.]

Tennessee didn’t even recognize spousal rape as a crime equivalent to other rapes until 2005. In recent years, we’ve had conversations on this blog on that and other issues of concern in locations around the country, including people having to pay for their rape kits, jailed pregnant women being shackled during labor, and women losing sterilization and contraception options as Catholic providers consume other existing facilities. We are not a progressive or compassionate state on women’s health issues.

Aunt B at Tiny Cat Pants sums it up thusly:

Expect to see more legislation like Campfield proposed last year, measures that would make it easier for abusive partners to walk through restraining orders and would make it more difficult for women to protect themselves from said partners. Also, expect to see measures trying to codify into state law a ban on abortion should Roe v. Wade ever be overturned and to define life as legally beginning at conception and therefore legal personhood, which will mean a full-frontal assault on any form of birth control that might, maybe, no matter how slim the chances, prevent a fertilized egg from implanting–which means it may become tougher to get the Pill.

While in the past many of these efforts have been killed in committee or by a larger vote, I think it’s going to be a whole new ballgame with our now more Republican House and Senate. I know it’s tempting to relax in face of a new President, new appointees, and some ballot initiative wins. We know, however, that most attempting restrictions on women’s access to health care and reproductive rights are happening in the states. As we move forward, please don’t forget us here in Tennessee.

17 Comments leave one →
  1. November 5, 2008 8:15 pm

    Would it be wrong to start taking bets on how soon we can hit “F”? I’m giving it 5 months.

  2. Beth permalink
    November 5, 2008 10:35 pm

    How about this…legislators keep their hands off your bodies with regard to Choice when it comes to pregnancy and we also let legislators keep their hands off our kids bodies with regard to choice when it comes to vaccination.

    They are both medical procedures.

    People have a right to both abortion and vaccination if they so choose. They also should have the right to informed refusal of vaccines. You shouldn’t require any expertise in health or medicine to appreciate that.

    Prochoice is prochoice….so keep that in mind. It’s a slippery slope.

  3. November 6, 2008 7:47 am

    Beth, our existing vaccine laws for schoolkids do have “informed refusal” or opt out provisions, and I think someone with a background in health (the non-leg commissioner) is better able to understand that than our legislators. We’re not disagreeing here.

    And let me just say in advance that this is not a thread where I’m going to argue over the details of every point of all possible reproductive rights issues. There are 3+ years of posts here for that. This is about my state, and what’s going to happen here.

  4. November 6, 2008 8:11 am

    Yes, I’m adding another comment to my own post. If you want to know how our state Democrats are ineffective and are not going to act as leaders, see Newscoma, Goldni, Sean, and B.

  5. November 6, 2008 9:27 am

    OK went the same way as TN. With the forced abortion bill in effect now, and the “I’m so pro-life” campaign literature I saw from SO MANY local candidates who were elected or reelected, I’m concerned about what happens next here! I have a daughter. I don’t want her (or my sons) growing up in a place women’s rights just don’t matter.

  6. November 6, 2008 9:39 am

    Pixie, we are going to have to keep an eye on OK as well, then. Keep me posted on anything that needs attention.

  7. November 6, 2008 10:30 am

    Rachel, this has been my concern as well.

    More to the point, what can we, as women in TN, do to prevent this from happening?

  8. November 6, 2008 11:36 am

    nm, I think a proactive approach is going to be required, rather than just waiting and trying to react, but I don’t know yet what form that might take. Right now I’m letting some of my national folks, and the blog readers, obviously, know that we may need some help (in terms of making sure ppl are paying attention). This is definitely something I’m going to be thinking about.

  9. November 6, 2008 5:28 pm

    I’ve been thinking much the same thing. Part of me wants to pack up and move, but, as my hubs said today “this means we can’t just *leave*! One in three people did get it, even if the other two are idiots.”

    So there it is. I’ve been considering options, the first being finding a Democrat who’s running in 2 years and working my buns off for them. in any capacity, really. I can knock on doors and stuff envelopes with the best of them.

    But it feels like there’s so much to fight! There’s women’s rights and reproductive rights, and education of all sorts (which I am having problems with right now with my older son), and don’t forget grocery prices and the other everyday economic messes, and then there’s the bizarre social mess that is Oklahoma…

    How hard is it going to be? Read the post on my blog from today about my mother, the “perfect Oklahoman…”


  10. saraclark permalink
    November 7, 2008 1:00 pm

    Good post Rachel and good points all around. I wish I knew of ways to make politicians and our legislators understand that they need to keep out of the whole reproductive rights debates and take a hands off approach. I will definitely work to support what needs to be done and to make my voice heard.

    The 1st biggest step is to get rid of those awful Pro-Life Tennessee license plates on cars. It strikes me as a hugely illegal move to issue those in the name of the state in the first place. You want to put a bumper sticker or some other indicator of your opinion on your car, go ahead. But the state should not be even tacitly appearing to agree with this stance. Apalling.

  11. November 8, 2008 5:17 pm


    I also think the proactive [on the offensive, even] approach is the way to go. Maybe something like establishing and funding a 527 group and hiring a skilled propagandist.


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  2. Pro-Choice Tennesseans Starting To Get The Fear : Post Politics: Political News and Views in Tennessee
  3. No Ten for Tennessee « FVCC Students for Choice
  4. News Round-Up: Yet Another Grab Bag of Links « Women’s Health News
  5. The “Death Certificates for Abortion” Bill is Back in Tennessee « Women’s Health News
  6. Tennessee Politics In Review | Newscoma

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