Should state Constitution be changed
to prohibit abortion? No
by Sandy Smith Madsen
Knoxville News Sentinel
August 08, 2004
In 1873, the all-male United States Supreme Court ruled that women were
forbidden to practice law because: "The paramount destiny and mission
of women are to fulfill the noble and benign offices of wife and mother.
This is the law of the Creator."
It would take almost 100 years for the high court to reconsider. In 1971,
the court acknowledged -- for the first time -- that women are individuals
before they are wives and mothers. Unfortunately, it can take far longer
to change attitudes than laws.
After decades of struggle by the women's movement, Tennessee can now boast
of a state Legislature that is 17 percent female. However, the women of
Tennessee rank last in the nation in political participation. A recent
study finds that states ranking poorly in the status of women tend to
be states with restrictive abortion laws. Forcing women to become mothers
is one way to discourage women from becoming lawyers and legislators.
While abortion is not as restricted in Tennessee as in Mississippi and
Louisiana, national abortion rights organizations give Tennessee a grade
of D-minus. Our anti-choice Legislators are working hard to earn us an
The most ominous of their efforts is a proposed amendment to the state
Constitution, which would abolish the state guarantee of a woman's right
to make her own decision about when, or if, to become a mother. This amendment
goes so far as to use "mother" as a synonym for woman.
Anti-choice Legislators propose bill after bill aimed at imposing what
they like to call "commonsense" abortion regulations. Even a cursory look
at history reveals that, when conservatives start talking about commonsense
solutions, ordinary women had best run for the hills. Some "commonsense"
regulations include: mandatory counseling by a health professional (aka
informed consent), mandatory 24-hour delays in abortion procedures and
a requirement that all second-trimester abortions be performed in hospitals.
According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a woman can actually obtain
an abortion in only 14 percent of U.S. hospitals. Twenty-four percent
of these hospitals perform fewer than five abortions a year. Hospitals
are also far more costly than clinics. Requiring women to make long trips
and raise large sums of money is one way to make abortion rare.
Mandatory counseling requirements are currently enforced in 20 states.
This "commonsense" regulation forces women to make an extra trip to the
clinic so health professionals can deliver counseling or state-scripted
lectures on fetal development, prenatal care and adoption. For some reason,
receiving this information by phone or mail is not an option. Mandatory
counseling informs women that public funding is available for prenatal
care and delivery but not for an abortion unless she has been raped, a
victim of incest or her life is endangered.
There's no help for low-income Tennessee women who carry fetuses with
severe defects. There's no help when pregnancies provoke severe health
consequences such as blindness or disability. Sixteen states circumvent
draconian federal restrictions by providing state funds for all medically
necessary abortions. It costs far more to pay for prenatal care and delivery
than for abortion. It costs even more to pay for the consequences of failing
to pay for medically necessary abortions. After mandatory counseling comes
the mandatory 24-hour delay in the abortion procedure. Women are sent
home and told to think about the procedure for 24 hours. In fact, the
state order to think is an order to think again. Going home to think may
require women to travel more than 100 miles. Only 6 percent of Tennessee
counties have an abortion provider; only 46 percent of Tennessee women
live in those counties.
Clinics commonly perform abortions only one or two days per week. Thus,
a woman with an appointment at a Knoxville clinic that offers abortions
on Tuesday mornings, Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings could have
her counseling on Tuesday and her abortion on Friday.
If she doesn't live in Knoxville, she'll be forced to take more time off
from work and pay more for accommodations. She may have to make two separate
trips to the city. As she spends precious weeks or months raising money,
gestation age increases along with the risks and costs of abortion.
Some of our anti-choice legislators advocate outlawing abortion in all
instances except to save the life of a woman. In other words, they think
Tennessee women should be subjected to the same law as the women of Iran.
One of Tennessee's rare female state legislators recently observed that
the Tennessee State General Assembly is still very much a man's world.
Mandating restrictive abortion laws is one way to keep it that way.
Sandy Smith Madsen, a writer and women's studies scholar based in Nashville,
is the founder of Tennessee Guerilla Women, a statewide Internet-based
organization of politically active women. This piece was distributed by
the Tennessee Forum. She may be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.