Tennessee has some of the strongest protections for personal privacy in the country. Unfortunately, last November we lost Amendment 1, a ballot question that was designed to make it easier for politicians in Nashville to push for abortion restrictions. This has now created questions around what protections still exist for people seeking abortion care in Tennessee.
In spite of the defeat, there was a lot of progress for Healthy and Free TN to celebrate coming out of the campaign against Amendment 1 that strengthens pro-choice forces in the state for future fights. We hired our first staff members and continued to grow our team. We led a civic engagement program in Memphis. We also coordinated a series of statewide early voting events. All this enabled us to strengthen and expand our membership and networks across the state.
Throughout last year’s campaign, backers of Amendment 1 made erroneous, unsupportable claims that abortion care is not safe. Given this misinformation, we are disappointed, but not surprised to now be facing a slew of bills built on the same kind of misinformation.
Twelve bills have been filed for introduction that are aimed at limiting abortion access by pushing invasive new requirements around how care is provided and creating obstacles for people seeking abortion services. There are bills that would interfere with counseling provided in clinics and impose a two-day mandatory delay. Five bills would require that abortion only be performed in facilities that are licensed as ambulatory surgical treatment centers (ASTC), a medically unnecessary requirement that is not grounded in evidence-based care. These bills are targeting qualified physicians in our state who provide abortion services now or are looking to include this critical reproductive health service in their practices in the future. One physician who provides abortion care for his patients is located in Johnson City. While there is a walk-in clinic that provides contraception in the area, there are no other options for his patients who are seeking abortion care. These bills would prevent him from providing his patients with the care they need.
The abortion providers in Tennessee are primarily located in the major urban areas — Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville. That means that folks from Upper West Tennessee are already several hours away from the nearest provider. With the introduction of the 48-hour mandatory delay, which would force women to make multiple visits before being able to access care, we are looking at significant obstacles being placed in front of people seeking abortion care in a state where many people are already having great difficulty getting by and accessing quality health care.
We have low employment and low wages; while the nation’s poverty rate has declined in recent years, the number of families in our state living in poverty has continued to rise. That may make these kinds of barriers insurmountable to many women and families in Tennessee.
As we feared, passage of Amendment 1 has emboldened politicians who want to eliminate access to abortion care in Tennessee. However, we are heartened by the introduction of a bill that would ensure that pregnant workers have fair and appropriate accommodations in the workplace, as well as several bills that would begin expanding access to paid family leave. We have a long road ahead, but we are proud of all that we have accomplished so far and look forward to the opportunity to really flex our advocacy muscles as we continue to fight for sexual health and reproductive freedom for every Tennessean.