By Hedy Weinberg
As we mark the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, the landmark case that recognized a woman’s right to access abortion and comprehensive health care, it’s important to renew our commitment to reproductive freedom, especially given the mounting assault against it in Tennessee.
The ability to decide whether or not to carry a pregnancy to term without government interference is essential to a woman’s equality, autonomy and dignity, with implications for every aspect of her life — her education, family, career goals, economic status and, more broadly, her ability to live the life she planned. In 2000, the Tennessee Supreme Court further protected women’s reproductive freedom by reaffirming the right to privacy found in the Tennessee Constitution and ruled that a woman’s right to abortion was protected under that privacy guarantee, finding that the state constitution provides even greater protection than the U.S. Constitution.
Ever since the Tennessee Supreme Court’s ruling, a fierce and escalating backlash has surfaced in the Tennessee General Assembly. Over the last 12 years, Tennessee legislators have attempted to enact a web of restrictions that force government deeper and deeper into personal, private decisions about reproductive health. The aim of such legislation has been to make it more challenging, intimidating and costly for women to obtain abortions and for doctors to perform them. These proposals range from requirements for biased counseling and expensive testing to excessive, medically unnecessary regulation of clinics and providers.
Last year, the Tennessee General Assembly passed a law requiring physicians who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. Clearly the sole purpose of the law was to make it more difficult for the already too few doctors to provide services.
While everyone wants to reduce the number of abortions, the focus should be on how to prevent unwanted pregnancies by providing education and resources, not on government imposing itself in private decisions.
For the last decade, legislators have also initiated the process to amend our state constitution and remove the privacy protection as it relates to abortion. In 2011, they finally succeeding in getting the proposed amendment placed on the 2014 gubernatorial ballot, moving Tennessee one step closer toward removing the state constitutional right to abortion.
For this reason, we must mount an aggressive public awareness campaign to oppose the pending ballot initiative. With partners statewide, we are building a coalition of civil liberties, privacy and health care organizations to confront these challenges.
Forty years after Roe, it’s essential that we stand together to protect reproductive rights. As the Legislature convenes, we must remain vigilant and ensure that our voices are heard. I invite you to sign the “I Stand for Reproductive Freedom” petition (http://bit.ly/TN-RF) that simply states that decisions regarding reproductive health are the most personal decisions a woman can make and that they should be made free from interference by the government or the general public. Please join with us.
Hedy Weinberg is executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Tennessee.