We Can’t Go Back: Tennessee’s Latest Anti-Abortion Bill isn’t “Pro-Life” 

Republican Tennessee lawmakers are at it again. Oh, right, they're always at it. More specifically, they've returned to their pursuit to deny women of a basic right: the option to safely access abortions.

Last week, Governor Bill Lee announced that he would be submitting a "comprehensive pro-life" bill this legislative session that will put the state "at the forefront of protecting life." The bill would ban abortion when there is a heartbeat. It also would specifically ban abortions based on sex, race, or disablilties. Additionally, it would require women to undergo an ultrasound and view the photo before having an abortion.

click to enlarge Stop the Ban rally in May 2019 - MAYA SMITH
  • Maya Smith
  • Stop the Ban rally in May 2019

These provisions suggest that women are just popping into abortion clinics having abortions for flippant reasons. That's not the case; women are having abortions because of their health or their financial situation or for a number of other serious reasons that one couldn't understand unless they have been in their shoes.

As the governor made his announcement, he was surrounded by — what else? —a group of men. Men, who have never and will never walk a step in these women's shoes, attempting to dictate what women do with their bodies. What a concept.

They say the bill is "stronger" than the "heartbeat bill" that passed in the House but failed in the Senate last year.

If the bill does pass, it will surely be challenged in court. That means thousands of dollars of taxpayers' money will fund fruitless litigation for a cause that most Tennesseans likely don't support. In fact, a study done by Vanderbilt University in the fall found that 54 percent of respondents believe Roe v. Wade should be upheld.

If abortions are banned in Tennessee, as many experts have said, women will not stop seeking abortions. But abortions will be become more difficult and dangerous for them.

The governor made the announcement of the near-total abortion ban just one day after the 47th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision. Nearly half a century ago, the country's highest court ruled that the Constitution gives women the liberty to choose to have an abortion. Why would we now, 50 years later, attempt to rip that liberty away and regress back to the time when women didn't have autonomy over their own bodies?

We cannot go back. Only forward.

Laws like these are utterly intrusive and grossly overreach into women's personal lives. No government entity or any entity, quite frankly, should interfere with a woman's decision about what to do with her body. The government cannot coerce women into bearing a child they don't have the capacity to raise or choose not to have for medical or other reasons. It's a very personal choice that should remain that way.

Views on abortion are just that — views. Whether or not one supports abortion, it's a personal conviction. And personal and/or religious convictions should not be mandated through laws. These lawmakers shouldn't force their faux moral-high-ground beliefs on others.

Why does it matter so much to these old white men what women in Tennessee do with their bodies? Why do they talk so much about the life of the unborn child and how important it is to defend it and so little about the women who bear the pregnancy?

Perhaps the most cringeworthy quote from Lee's announcement was this: "My passion for developing this legislation stems from my commitment to defending the intrinsic dignity of all people."

It's the "intrinsic dignity of all people" bit that got me. The intrinsic dignity of many is abused every day in this state, and he doesn't seem to be doing anything about it. Here in Shelby County, the state's largest county, 45 percent of children are living in poverty. What about their dignity? I wonder if the governor cares just as much about them and their limited access to fresh food or quality health care or decent education. Do lawmakers care just as much about the pregnant workers in Tennessee who receive bare-minimum accommodations in the workplace?

The governor and lawmakers pushing the legislation refer to it as "pro-life," but does their pro-life view extend beyond women's vaginas and apply to all people? No one can truly claim to be pro-life if they don't defend the basic rights of all people and fight to uplift the poor, welcome immigrants, and engage the disenfranchised.

Maya Smith is a Flyer staff writer.

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