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The “Death Certificates for Abortion” Bill is Back in Tennessee

February 12, 2009

On the very day after election day, I reminded readers that “last year, [TN State representative Stacey] Campfield proposed legislation that would have required death certificates to be issued for every abortion.” The bill has now been reintroduced, as HB 819, again by Campfield. It reads:

A death certificate for each induced termination of pregnancy which occurs in this state shall be filed with the office of vital records within ten (10) days after the procedure by the person in charge of the institution in which the induced termination of pregnancy was performed.

I’m not going to go over it all again, but here are some previous posts for background.

Campfield seems to have attempted to address some of the criticisms of the bill from last year. For example, Tennessee state law does not require death certificates for miscarriages (“spontaneous abortions”). Campfield now has introduced a companion bill [HB 0807] to require “stillborn deaths to be placed in vital records; fetus must be 22 weeks or 500 grams.”

Campfield may be unaware that Tennessee already has a law [68-3-504] requiring that “Each fetal death of five hundred (500) grams or more, or, in the absence of weight, of twenty-two (22) completed weeks’ gestation or more, that occurs in this state, shall be reported to the office of vital records within ten (10) days after delivery.”

If you were to treat abortion and stillbirth the same for death certificate purposes, you would need to know that only 1.3% of induced abortions occur at or after 21 weeks. In other words, were you to apply the 22 week limit for fetal death/stillbirth to abortions, you would issue death certificates for 1.3% of abortions, and that’s not excluding those that happen at 21 rather than 22 weeks (because the stats don’t say). Even if you also generously add the 2.1% for which the number of gestational weeks is unknown, you would issue death certificates for 3.4% of abortions, applying the stillbirth standard (a standard that also omits the high rate of first trimester miscarriages).

Campfield is clearly not treating all fetuses alike. In one case, he issues a recognizing government document down to the lowest limits of potential, but uncertain, viability outside the womb. In the other, he issues the document all the way back to conception. The difference must be in the ideology, because it’s not in the biology.

This year’s version of the “death certificates for abortion” bill also includes a section that is presumably intended to head off criticisms that the measure essentially would create a registry of women who have had abortions, and that these vital records may not be private. It reads:

(d) Personal information on a death certificate for each induced termination of pregnancy shall not be disclosed to any person by the department, its officers, employees or contractors. The use of the personal information shall be strictly limited to research activities, and for use in producing statistical reports, so long as the personal information is not published, redisclosed, or used to contact individuals.

If you’re troubled by the lack of definition of who and what around “research activities,” there’s nothing for it, because state law on vital record disclosure is similarly vague. And as I noted last time around, information on how many abortions are performed is already required to be reported to the State, so it’s not entirely clear what research might be accomplished here that couldn’t already. Critics, including me, have argued that the very existence of these records is specifically intended to intimidate women who are considering abortion. The archcrone makes a similar argument in her post today, which is worth a read on its own.

Meanwhile, Campfield’s bill does nothing to reduce unwanted pregnancy. It does nothing to provide access to or information about contraception or related health services such as prenatal care. It does nothing to provide the kinds of support women need to successfully carry a pregnancy to term and raise a subsequent child. He has introduced bills prohibiting “the teaching of or furnishing of materials on human sexuality other than heterosexuality in public school grades K-8” and prohibiting “registration of a birth certificate for a child of an illegal immigrant mother unless the father is a US citizen and he provides a written agreement for financial support of child until age 18.” Meanwhile, in Memphis, TN, an actually born baby dies every 43 hours, with infant mortality especially high for black babies.

I find this political nonsense of Campfield’s tiring.

Added: Aunt B of Tiny Cat Pants has some discussion going on in the comments of this post about how or if it’s possible for a subset of death certificates to be more private than others, and how/if that might actually work, and it’s definitely worth thinking about.

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