An Open Letter on HB 3808, a Tennessee Bill to Intimidate Patients and Abortion Providers
Here’s the letter I’m sending to relevant politicians in Tennessee regarding a bill to collect very specific abortion data, with little consequence for those who disclose it illegally, and creating targets for violence out of women, their children and spouses, and providers, their families, coworkers, and other patients.
I am writing to express my opposition to HB 3808, the so-called “Life Defense Act,” which requires the collection and reporting of detailed data about women having abortions and their providers.
Data is already collected about the number of abortions provided in the state. It is reasonable to make that data available in aggregate, as the state already does. Reporting more specific data by the county level is much more likely to allow identification and targeting of specific women and their families, as Tennessee has many rural counties in which crossing the categories of race, education, age, and other demographics can get you close or exactly to a specific woman if you have an interest in terrorizing her. Such identification is a violation of privacy, and likely to incite harassment of women and their families.
Although the proposed law includes some provisions that are superficially intended to protect privacy, it also makes clear that the consequences of disclosing such data is simply a misdemeanor, a relatively mild consequence when we’re talking about people whose plans may include harassment, stalking, and violence. The barrier between collection and disclosure is thin, and the consequences for any leaker of the data are small. Regardless of the final form of the actual data reporting, though, the law will serve the purpose of intimidating women seeking a legal medical procedure with implied threats of these consequences.
Publishing the names of all providers is also likely to result in violent consequences. Just in case you think that people who provide abortions are bad, made a choice, and deserve whatever consequences they suffer – these are not “shunned at the church supper” consequences. These are “shot in the face at home” consequences.
Anti-abortion extremists are well-known to have threatened, stalked, kidnapped, assaulted, and murdered providers and have committed crimes against their homes and family members. They make online hit lists of providers to make it easier for anti-abortion terrorists to target, harass, and murder doctors throughout the country.
These expected violent consequences will not just affect abortion providers themselves – they will affect spouses, children, and other loved ones. The children of known providers have been barricaded into their homes, stalked at school, and subjected to other harassment and threats, and this bill endangers them, their friends, and their families. While supporters of bills like this often claim to be protecting “babies,” HB 3808 could in reality incite a threat against the born children of both women choosing abortion and their providers.
It would also not just affect the much-demonized providers at Planned Parenthood. When a woman experiences a pregnancy complication, in some cases a non-clinic provider will perform a necessary abortion out of compassion for and duty to the patient. This might occur in a hospital or private medical practice. These are providers who have not elected to life a life of wearing bullet-proof vests and constantly worrying about threats of violence. They are physicians who provide a legal service to a single woman in a time of need. Making their names potentially public will cause some of these providers, their spouses, their children, their everyday non-abortion patients, and their coworkers to be subjected to the same threats of and actual violence.
This is of course the point of this provision in the bill – to intimidate doctors into not providing needed medical care, and it is unacceptable. When a physician is deciding how to best provide care for a woman with a pregnancy complication, his or her first thought should never be, “If I provide needed and legal medical care, that my patient and I both agree is the best course of action, will I be putting myself and my family in danger because of the Tennessee state legislature?”
There are other problems with this bill. Because threats of violence have so limited the number of providers in the first place, many areas of the country only have providers who travel in to perform this legal medical service. The admitting privileges provision is not for a medical purpose, as facilities and providers capable of handling unexpected complications exist throughout the state. This provision is specifically designed to prevent such providers from offering legal abortions to under-served areas.
I urge you to reject HB 3808. Let’s be clear – the intent of this bill and bills like it has never been to collect better data about abortion. It has always been to intimidate women and providers making personal, legal choices with implied threats of privacy violation and violence. The Tennessee state legislature should not be in the business of harassing its citizens and making them targets for anti-abortion terrorists. Vote no on HB 3808.
I’ll be sending this letter to the members of the Health and Human Resources Committee, who are expected to consider it tomorrow (including bill sponsor Matthew Hill), as well as my own House reps. Find your TN legislator here.