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Tenn. Abortion Providers Say Antiabortion-Rights Bills Would Burden Women, Clinics

Tenn. Abortion Providers Say Antiabortion-Rights Bills Would Burden Women, Clinics

April 30, 2015 — Tennessee abortion providers say that two antiabortion-rights measures before Gov. Bill Haslam (R) could create additional burdens for women and the clinics, including added costs and logistical challenges, the Tennessean reports.

Background on Bills

The state Legislature last week passed a measure (SB 1280) that would require the six abortion clinics in Tennessee that provide surgical abortions to be licensed as ambulatory surgical centers. Specifically, the bill would require all facilities or physician offices that perform more than 50 surgical abortions annually to be licensed as ambulatory surgical centers.

Four providers in the state currently meet ambulatory surgical center standards, while a fifth provider, in Knoxville, only provides medication abortion and is therefore not subject to the requirement. The two remaining clinics that provide surgical abortions and are not licensed as ambulatory surgical centers are the Bristol Regional Women's Center and the Women's Center in Nashville (Wadhwani, Tennessean, 4/27).

Meanwhile, the state Legislature also passed a bill (SB 1222) that would impose a 48-hour mandatory delay before a woman could obtain an abortion. The measure also would require that women receive in-person counseling from a physician prior to the procedure. In the case of a medical emergency, the counseling requirement is waived.

The bill also includes a "spring-back" provision that would reduce the delay to 24 hours if the measure is stayed or struck down by a court. In addition, the remainder of the bill would stay in effect if any portion of the measure is found invalid (Women's Health Policy Report, 4/22).

According to the Tennessean, both bills have been submitted to Haslam, who has indicated he will sign them.

Clinic Concerns

Corinne Rovetti, co-director of the Knoxville Center for Reproductive Health, said the mandatory delay and in-person counseling measure would be a "logistical nightmare" for the clinic, which sees about 1,800 patients a year and has a single part-time physician. She said the measure would increase costs for the clinic, noting that while clinic staff tries "as best as we can to have affordable, quality services ... we may have to pass those costs on" to patients.

In addition, Rovetti said the mandatory delay would require women to make two trips to the clinic. She said it would be particularly difficult for women who are employed and have children, as they could have to take two days off work, forgo pay, buy gas and arrange for the care of their children, among other challenges.

Similarly, Rebecca Terrell -- director of Choices, the Memphis Center for Reproductive Health -- said that while providers are trying to reduce costs for women, the new rules are "going to cost women money, many of whom can't afford it." She said the rules likely would increase the average cost of medical services associated with abortion care by $100, even though the clinic is already regulated as an outpatient surgical center.

Terrell noted that some patients travel as much as five hours to obtain abortion care at her clinic and that abortion providers in the state are discussing ways to assist women, including creating a transportation system or a state abortion fund to help pay for the cost of hotels and travel.

Meanwhile, Ashley Coffield, president and CEO at Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region, said her clinic might have to extend weekday hours, add weekend service days or raise costs as a result of the regulations. In addition, she said the new rules would both raise demand for doctors and make it harder to recruit physicians amid a "culture and climate" in the state Legislature that lawmakers are "out to get physicians who are abortion providers" (Tennessean, 4/27).