House OKs new restrictions on abortion doctors

Friday, March 23, 2012, Vol. 36, No. 12

NASHVILLE (AP) - A bill that puts new restrictions on doctors who perform abortions is intended to make it more difficult for women to get the procedure in Tennessee, opponents of the legislation said Thursday.

The measure sponsored by Republican Rep. Matthew Hill of Jonesborough would require physicians performing abortions to hold hospital privileges in either the home or adjacent county of the woman seeking an abortion. It was approved 72-24 on Thursday. Eight Democrats voted for the mostly Republican-backed proposal.

Rep. Gary Odom, D-Nashville, was among critics who questioned why abortions would be singled out for extra restrictions on doctors, when others like tonsillectomies to eye operations would not.

Hill responded that his aim is to ensure the safety of women undergoing the procedure if there are complications.

"To continue to make the false assertion that abortions only take place in surgical centers is ludicrous," he said. "They take place in many, many locations other than surgical centers."

Odom said he sees a different motivation behind the bill.

"I think it's intended to do one thing and one thing only, and that is to place another requirement on a physician that makes it more difficult for a woman to seek out the services that they want that are legal in the state of Tennessee," he said.

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner of Nashville noted that state law puts no geographical limitations on any other medical procedure.

He questioned Hill's assertion that abortions are being performed illegally in Tennessee by out-of-state doctors. Hill later acknowledged that he had no direct knowledge of such activity.

Rep. Jeanne Richardson later noted that the entire discussion about Hill's measure took place between men, and that the vote was called before several women had a chance to weigh in on the proposal.

"We have made it painfully clear to t he women and men in Tennessee who is in charge of women's bodies and their health care decisions, and the decisions ultimately about their lives," said the Memphis Democrat.

The companion to the House version is awaiting a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Hill decided not to include a controversial amendment that would have published the names of doctors who perform abortions and required statistical information about women who receive them.

The amendment would have made public the age, marital status, race and county of residence of all women who undergo an abortion. It expressly forbade identifying women who have undergone an abortion, but critics said those living in rural areas might easily be outed. It would have required listing the woman's pre-existing medical conditions, as well as the number of prior pregnancies and abortions.