Tenn. Lawmaker Withdraws Provision That Would Publish Names of Abortion Providers, Patients' Information; Abstinence-Only Bill Advances

March 23, 2012 — Tennessee Rep. Matthew Hill (R) is withdrawing a controversial provision in a Tennessee bill (HB 3808) amid opposition from a physicians group and advocates on both sides of the abortion-rights debate, the AP/NECN reports (AP/NECN, 3/21).

The provision would have required the state health department to post the names of abortion providers and information about their patients on a public website. Critics of the measure said the information about women -- which would list their county, age, race, marital status and number of prior pregnancies -- could potentially lead to the identification of individual patients. The Tennessee Medical Association and Planned Parenthood cautioned that women and doctors could be vulnerable to attacks if they were identified (Women's Health Policy Report, 3/21). Abortion-rights opponents expressed similar concerns.

During a committee meeting on Wednesday, Hill said he has received threats as a result of publicity surrounding the bill.

The original bill, which has already passed the House Health and Human Resources Committee, will move forward and is now being scheduled for a vote on the House floor. The measure would require abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a licensed hospital in the county where they practice, or in an adjacent county (AP/NECN, 3/21).

House Subcommittee Approves Sex Education bill

The House Education Subcommittee on Wednesday approved a bill (HB 3621) that would further restrict the topics covered in sex education classes and create new penalties for instructors who violate the policy, The Tennessean reports.

The measure would make it more difficult for the Tennessee State Board of Education to make changes to the sex education curriculum. Lessons would focus on "risk avoidance" and discouraging "gateway sexual activity," rather than on how to protect against pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections (Sisk, The Tennessean, 3/22). The bill would mandate "abstinence-centered" lessons that stress refraining from "any kind of sexual contact" (AP/NECN, 3/21).

The bill would allow outside organizations to continue teaching sex education classes, but parents would be permitted to sue the groups if they believe the instruction goes beyond the law's intent. Regular teachers would be exempt from the suits. Jeff Teague, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee, said the provision is meant to discourage instruction from groups that discuss topics other than just abstinence.

According to The Tennessean, the bill gained momentum when sponsors of another sex education measure (HB 229) agreed to delay their legislation so HB 3621 could be considered first. HB 229 -- dubbed the "Don't Say Gay" bill by opponents -- would mandate that lessons for elementary and middle school students only discuss heterosexuality (The Tennessean, 3/22).