Walker Kinsler headshot

A new anti-abortion bill circulating the Tennessee state house is a defilement against women’s rights, medical knowledge and plain human dignity.

On March 15, 2022, legislation called HB2779, modeled after the Texas vigilante anti-abortion law, passed the state house health subcommittee. Within the bill contains one of the strongest attacks on women’s rights in modern Tennessee history. The bill would completely outlaw abortions, instead of the currently-intended six-week mark, and force a citizen-enforced police state on women and doctors within Tennessee. Like in Texas, it allows private citizens to sue against anyone who helps a woman get the procedure.

The most egregious aspect of the bill is that relatives of rapists can sue anyone who helps rape victims get access to an abortion, being able to earn at least $10,000 in damages from civil lawsuits.

This would effectively leave rape victims to be held hostage by relatives of rapists, who could earn a hefty payday by exploiting a women after a brutal attack. Have the GOP members of the Tennessee state legislature no decency? How could such a law that leaves its own citizens, victims of an assault, exposed and defenseless in civil law?

In addition, there is no exception for rape in general or incest. This means a young teenager forcefully impregnated by a power-figure, such as a father or uncle, would be unable to do anything, as anyone in Tennessee attempting to help her get an abortion could be sued.

This rewrites the depths of depravity that Tennessee GOP members are willing to sink to.

Republican Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, leader of the state senate, has spoken out saying he will not support the bill. At the same time Gov. Bill Lee, usually an ardent assaulter on abortion, has yet to throw his support behind the bill.

Yet, their opposition to the bill isn’t because of the glaring medical flaws or the beating down of women’s rights, nor is it because they are taking an ethical stand against an unethical law. They oppose the bill, in McNally’s own words, “because it’ll complicate the case we already have that’s moving up to the Supreme Court.” They are opposing it for purely political reasons, as Tennessee is already dealing with an anti-abortion bill signed in 2020 that is still stuck in court.

In fact, GOP members in Tennessee’s state legislature have complemented the Texas-style bill. House Majority Leader William Lamberth said he doesn’t think the new bill would conflict with the abortion bans Tennessee has already passed, saying “I certainly support the concept of the bill.”

He added, “I think it’s a good conversation.”

It’s a good conversation to strip away basic human decency away from women? To allow investigators to ask a woman how she lost her pregnancy? According to various medical estimates, 10-20% of pregnancies end in miscarriages. But now a neighbor, friend or someone completely unaware of the mother’s situation could sue to find out if the pregnancy was miscarried or an abortion. This is an unforgivable breach of a woman’s privacy and dignity.

At the same time, the complete outlawing of abortion puts women and children into terrible situations. When people are denied access to abortion care, they are more likely to continue living in poverty, stay with a violent partner and the development and wellbeing of children is negatively affected. Not to mention that Tennessee already has one of the worst infant mortality rates in the country and nearly 5,800 sexual assaults were reported in 2019.

Plus, the outlawing of abortion doesn’t stop it. People shift to traveling to other states that have access to abortion and turn to medication abortion. And in the worst times, people resort to dangerous underground procedures. These underground practitioners and “clinics” can, of course, be deadly.

The fact that this bill was even introduced in the first place is outstandingly shocking. It shows that the current conservative tide in the Tennessee state house is terrifyingly harmful to its own citizens, disregarding the welfare of rape victims in the name of outlawing evil. It is a classic case of “the ends justify the means.” The Tennessee GOP is once again pushing for its agenda, no matter the cost.

The advance of conservative priorities, at the expense of women’s health, independence and bodily sovereignty, reads like an authoritarian policy. Well after all, that’s what it is.

Walker Kinsler is a freshman at UT this year studying political science. He can be reached at wkinsler@vols.utk.edu.

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