By Richard Fausset
March 19, 2012, 7:35 a.m.
Reporting from Atlanta—
The latest salvo in the abortion wars comes in the form of a bill in the Tennessee Legislature that would result in the online publication of the names of doctors who perform abortions, and -- according to critics of the measure -- potentially out individual women who undergo the controversial procedure.
The Life Defense Act of 2012, which is under consideration in the Tennessee House of Representatives, would direct the state Health Department to post on its website a report on every abortion, to be filled out by the facility where the procedure takes place.
The reports must include the "identification of the physician who performed the abortion and the physician's office, clinic, hospital or other facility where the abortion was performed," according to the official summary of the bill.
Chas Sisk of the Nashville Tennessean reports that abortion-rights advocates are worried that this could result in the intimidation of doctors, given violent acts against abortion providers in the past.
Although the bill states that patients will not be identified in the reports, it says the documents must include the woman's county, age, race, marital status, plus her number of prior pregnancies, number of prior abortions, the gestational age of the fetus, and her preexisting medical conditions. That, critics say, could make it easy to guess identities, particularly in sparsely populated rural areas.
The sponsor of the bill, Matthew Hill, is a Republican state representative from the east Tennessee town of Jonesborough.
"The Department of Health already collects the data, but they don't publish it," Hill told the Tennessean. "All we're asking is that the data they already collect be made public."
Abortion has become a high-profile topic in recent months as opponents of the procedure, who are somewhat stymied on the federal level by the Roe vs. Wade decision, have taken their fight to the states. In November, Mississippi voters rejected a "personhood" amendment that would have defined life as beginning at fertilization.
Earlier this month, Virginia's Republican governor, Bob McDonnell, signed a bill requiring women to have ultrasounds before an abortion. The original version of that bill would have required some women to have an invasive vaginal probe as part of the ultrasound process.