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Private and Protected

by Barry Henderson

The Tennessee Supreme Court issued its first substantive ruling a couple of weeks ago on the issue of a woman's right to have an abortion. By a resounding vote of 4-1, the justices sided with women who choose to have legal abortions.

The court's most important conclusion was that the woman's choice in the matter of an abortion is not up for debate in the public domain. "We specifically hold that a woman's right to terminate her pregnancy is a vital part of the right to privacy guaranteed by the Tennessee Constitution," the majority opinion said flatly.

What a relief. The state Supreme Court has held previously that "there is a right of individual privacy guaranteed under and protected by the liberty clauses in the Tennessee Declaration of Rights."

To extend that perfected right to women who are in the throes of anguish over an unwanted pregnancy is a bold, common-sense step in the direction of keeping government entirely out of the relationship between people and their doctors where legal options are concerned.

It affirms that few people in positions of authority want to allow the government to intervene with its own judgments in those most personal of decisions.

The particular clauses of Tennessee abortion law that were struck down by the high court were a requirement that women submit to mandatory counseling about abortion and other options and that each woman wait two days after reaching her decision before receiving her abortion. The court also found that the law's attempt at provisions to set up exceptions to the waiting period and counseling requirements in "medical emergencies" did not go far enough to protect the health of women who found themselves in need of an abortion.

It was such a triumph for the rights of women that Paul Crilly, the president of Knox County's chapter of Tennessee Right to Life, an anti-abortion organization, said the Tennessee court "went way beyond the federal Supreme Court in this instance. They've gone too far."

Well, that means the court removed impediments to a legal abortion. Impeding abortions was all that was intended in the first place. When the self-appointed "pro-life" minority pushed for the unconstitutional limitations on personal privacy, they sought only to set obstacles in the path of each woman's choice over whether to bear a child or terminate a pregnancy. That the General Assembly went along with that misogynistic notion is principally and simply testimony to the fact that too few women are elected to legislative seats.

In his initial response to the court decision, Crilly was quoted as saying that abortion providers are "not interested in [women] patients. They're interested in making a profit."

What he doesn't know is the nature of the unbiased counseling each woman is given at the two abortion-providing clinics in Knoxville. He doesn't know that all of the woman's options are carefully and caringly explained by trained counselors without regard to any state mandate. He doesn't believe that the clinics' continual advice to women to avoid unwanted pregnancies by conscientiously practicing birth control goes against that perceived "profit" motive. He doesn't care that the cost of an abortion is kept as low as practicable by those professionally staffed clinics so that the procedure is affordable by women with very limited financial resources. One of the clinics here is a not-for-profit organization, keeping that cost competitively low. Paul Crilly stays deliberately out of that loop. The interests of women are not his prime concern. He is not one, for one thing.

Corinne Rovetti, a nurse-practitioner at the Knoxville Center for Reproductive Health, the not-for-profit clinic, was philosophical about the "profit" assertion of the anti-abortion leader.

"Most providers are OB/GYNs [obstetrician/gynecologists who are M.D.s]; they have experienced both the joy of a longed-for childbirth and the agony of an unwanted birth—for profit," she said. "To the extent that they help a woman avoid that agony by terminating her pregnancy for profit, yes, it's for profit," Rovetti said.

She and the other employees of both local abortion-providing clinics have seen how wrenching the decision can be for any woman who considers abortion. They work where they work to provide sympathetic support to those women, no matter what the ultimate decision. They carry the emotional burden of those decisions home with them. They do that for low pay because they believe that every woman has a fundamental right to choose her fate when she becomes pregnant.

The abortion providers around here know that even if a woman's choice to terminate a pregnancy is the most personal and private of decisions, there is no reason she must go through that emotional wringer alone.

It's hard to imagine how gratifying it is to those clinic workers when the highest court in the state agrees with that woman's right to make her choice without government interference.

It's nearly as gratifying as the reduction in the number of abortions being performed locally and nationally. The clinics' workers cheer that reduction because they know it is happening because of lowered numbers of teen pregnancies and better education and practice in birth control methods. They know that fewer women are going through the ordeal of an unwanted pregnancy, and that is the most gratifying thought of all. There's the real profit in their work.

September 28, 2000 * Vol. 10, No. 39
© 2000 Metro Pulse