OP-ED: Tennessee’s Abortion Bill Will Cripple Women’s Healthcare Statewide


Shreya Gupta

Tennessee’s newest abortion laws and the likely impending Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Mississippi will decimate health care availability for women and children in Tennessee—especially for people who already face significant health care barriers like people of color and poorer individuals.

Tennessee women already face accessibility barriers, with 37.2% of Tennessee counties classified as maternity care deserts—areas whose hospitals have no obstetrics departments. To compound these obstacles, emotional trauma and stigma are legally built into the abortion experience in Tennessee. Currently, in Tennessee, patients seeking an abortion must be given an ultrasound where the image of the fetus is shown and described to them—a potentially harrowing experience for a pregnant woman. According to Dr. Nikki Zite, a Tennessean OB/GYN for over 20 years, the mandatory ultrasound and 48-hour waiting period only serve to obfuscate a routine, low-risk procedure.

The bill is recognized to be a near replica of Texas’s infamous abortion law SB8—colloquially referred to as the “Heartbeat Bill,” as it bans abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected. Studies on the Texas bill recognize its capacity for harming women of marginalized identities, namely women with restricted movement, minors, and women with mental health issues. The Tennessee bill’s passage will increase the avertable risks of morbidity, loss of fertility, and mortality for these women.

The aforementioned group of women with restricted movement refers to more than just the disabled population. It includes women who are homeless, impoverished, medically dependent, and incarcerated, all of whom would be threatened by the Tennessee bill. Women with armed service commitments and victims of trafficking and domestic abuse would similarly face risks under the legislation

Moreover, women of color and women of lower socioeconomic class are more likely to fall into one of these categories, underlining how this bill will target the most disadvantaged members of our society. 

The law also affects pregnant minors who are at the mercy of their guardians with the option of judicial bypass. Pregnant minors are typically already predisposed to poverty and diminished access to healthcare. Additionally, due to their age, pregnant minors may know about the existence of abortion care, but often lack specific knowledge about the procedure, causing them to delay seeking care. 

Lastly, women with mental disorders are disadvantaged by SB8, as they are already at a greater risk to be raped or sexually abused. Under this bill, while the rapist or abuser themselves cannot bring a suit against the woman for terminating a pregnancy, there is no such clause protecting the woman from being sued by family members or relatives of the attacker. Tennessee’s bill also opens doors for abortion-related lawsuits, as private residents would be empowered to sue providers for $10,000 per abortion performed.

Legal experts question the complex barriers that lay between a woman and an abortion compared to if a man were to sue his ex-wife for custody of their pre-embryos should he not want her to be pregnant via in vitro fertilization. In Tennessee, the woman must have an abortion before the fetus is viable, earlier than 3 months, and it must be arranged to be performed by a licensed physician. The physician must undergo a process to obtain “written informed consent,” during which the provider will describe the risks and benefits of the abortion. After that, the woman must wait 48 hours before finally being eligible to sign the consent form. 

The unhinged violence and harassment that has risen from this issue—such as the recent arson of Planned Parenthood in Knoxville—should prompt us to consider our moral compass and capacity for the tolerance of others’ choices and ways of life.

The debate surrounding abortion has become less about preserving life or religious beliefs, and more about obstructing women’s freedom. In terms of the bill’s jurisprudence, it substantially cripples gender equality in the real world and is a threat to the fundamental legal right to privacy in reproductive decision-making established in Griswold v. Connecticut (1965). 

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen frames the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade in terms of its economic implications, putting it simply, “[W]hat we are talking about is whether or not women will have the ability to regulate their reproductive situation in ways that will enable them to plan lives that are fulfilling and satisfying for them…One aspect of a satisfying life is being able to feel you have the financial resources to raise a child.”

Ultimately, the passage of these policies promoting the birth of unwanted children does nothing to improve the lives of the 400,000 American children in foster care, the 2.5 million American children who are homeless, and the 12.5 million American children living in poverty in this country. 

Image Credit: “Abortion” (unmodified) by teofilo via Flickr, licensed under CC BY 2.0