Rep. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, said he will not support a controversial abortion bill unless it undergoes major changes. The bill would require the Tennessee Department of Health to list online the names of doctors who perform abortions.Jed DeKalb
NASHVILLE — The General Assembly's only physician member, an anti-abortion Republican, says he expects a controversial abortion bill scheduled today for a House committee vote will undergo major changes or he won't support the measure.
Rep. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, said he understands the bill, sponsored by Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, will change substantially.
That includes eliminating a bill provision requiring the state Department of Health to list online the names of doctors who perform abortions in Tennessee.
"We're going to change that and take it out because we don't want to target doctors," Hensley said Tuesday. "We don't want to ... have any kind of violence against them. I don't agree with doctors doing abortions, but certainly we don't need to make that public so that they're in danger."
He noted that many physicians, including obstetricians, could wind up on the list because of procedures used to treat women who have had a miscarriage.
The Tennessee Medical Association, which represents doctors, also opposes the naming of providers of abortion services.
As currently drafted, the "Life Defense Act of 2012" also requires state health officials to release detailed information by county about the age, race and marital status of women who receive abortions. Information about the "gestational" age of the fetus would be disclosed as would information about a woman's past pregnancies, abortions and educational attainment.
The names of women would not be made public under Hill's bill, which came from Tennessee Right to Life.
But Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee officials and other critics say the release of localized demographic information could unintentionally lead to the identification of women in smaller, rural counties.
Hensley said he believes the dangers there are overstated, but he nonetheless will support continuing to have the information released only by much larger regions as is currently done to ensure no harm is done.
"Really, for it to pass further, it's going to have to have those changes before I support it," Hensley said.
He said while he has not spoken to Hill, he believes changes are under way to the provision. Hensley said he does support a part of the bill that says no physician can perform an abortion unless he or she has admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.
Hill said earlier Tuesday that "we're just trying to get it all worked out and we'll be ready to go" today in the House Health and Human Resources Committee.
He declined to discuss possible changes. He said the bill has a "twofold purpose, just take the information that the department already collects ... and put it on the website and have admitting privileges performing abortions in counties around there."
"It [hospital admitting privilege] is just really a safety measure to make sure that the doctors are providing safe care," Hill said. "That's really what we're going after."
Hensley said it was a reasonable provision in his view.
Jeff Teague, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee, told the Tennessean earlier this week that he was worried about provisions disclosing names of doctors performing abortions.
"In an environment where doctors are victims of violence -- and we've had physicians who provide abortion care murdered in the past few years -- I think this is an attempt to intimidate and allow for providers to be terrorized," he said.
Keri Adams said Tuesday that Planned Parenthood officials still object to the provision requiring abortion service physicians to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.
"Actually, it is a targeted restriction on providers of abortion services," she said of the provision. "It only requires admitting privileges for doctors who provide abortion. What about other doctors who perform other outpatients surgeries?"
But Hensley said it is a reasonable provision in his view.
Adams said she was "heartened to hear Rep. Hensley rethink his support of this bill recognizing it would be dangerous not only for the women to receive abortion services in Tennessee but physicians who provide them."
Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga, a registered nurse and Health and Human Resources Committee member, said she has been concerned about the provisions of the bill identifying doctors providing abortion services as well as detailed information about patients in smaller counties.
"I do see harm because there are some people who, given their concerns, are very passionate about this issue," Favors said, who added the abortion issue has been "unjustly politicized" in her view.
She said she too also objects to the provision requiring doctors providing abortion services have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.
"I don't think that's necessary because any physician as part of their protocol would have a referral process in place if a person needed a referral to a hospital," she said.
Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...