Dr. Amy Gordon Bono, a primary care physician, speaking in August 2022 outside the Tennessee Capitol on Wednesday about the state’s “trigger law” that bans abortions. (Photo: John Partipilo)
More than 700 Tennessee doctors, nurses and other medical professionals are calling on the state’s GOP-super majority Legislature to revisit an abortion ban that criminalizes the procedure with no exceptions and subjects doctors who perform it to prosecution, fines and jail time.
In an open letter to the legislature, published in a full page ad in The Tennessean on Sunday, the healthcare professionals are asking the General Assembly to “reconsider the ‘trigger law.'”
“Tennesseans should have the right to make personal health care decisions with the assistance of their doctors and healthcare team – without the intrusion of politicians,” the letter says.
“This law puts the government in charge of deciding which healthcare options are available to patients, setting a dangerous precedent that violates the sacred physician-patient relationship.”
“And because it includes zero exceptions – not for rape, incest, fetal anomaly, or even to protect the mother’s life – it forces health care providers to balance appropriate medical care with the risk of criminal prosecution.”
Tennessee’s trigger law, formally named the “Human Life Protection Act,” took effect Aug. 25, after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the landmark abortion rights case, Roe v Wade and left to individual states the right to set abortion rules.
In Tennessee, the law makes performing an abortion a Class C felony, punishable for up to 15 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000 for anyone who performs one. There are no exceptions for rape or incest. Instead of containing an exception to the law for abortions necessary to spare the life of, or grave harm to, a pregnant patient, the law says doctors may use those circumstances as an affirmative defense in a criminal trial.
All Tennessee abortion clinics have ceased offering the procedure; women seeking abortions must travel out of state. And doctors say they fear they will be prosecuted for providing life-saving abortions.
The signers of the paid ad are individuals, not the hospitals that employ them. Hospitals have declined to answer reporters’ questions about how they will comply with the law and whether they are permitting any life-saving abortions to be performed at their facilities.
“We are doing the heavy lifting ourselves—and that means funding the effort ourselves, as well,” said Dr. Amy Gordon Bono, a Nashville physician.
The letter was initiated by Dr. Nikki Zite, a Knoxville OB-GYN, Dr. Heather Maune, a Nashville OB-GYN and Dr. Jessica Rosen, a Nashville emergency medicine physician, a news release said.
“This letter quickly gained support from so many colleagues because healthcare workers don’t want a ban without exceptions,” Dr. Zite said. “Medical professionals understand that there are situations, often heartbreaking, when ending a pregnancy is necessary. People don’t want physicians delaying care because they fear being criminalized.”
Organizers are working to next run the ad in the Tennessean online, Dr. Bono said.
The letter does not include specific recommendations for whether the law should be amended or overturned, but notes the law, as it is written now, could criminalize routine and urgent medical procedures, including tubal pregnancies, serious infections or cancers during pregnancy and miscarriage care.
Full text of the letter:
As medical professionals from across Tennessee, we call on our legislature to reconsider the “trigger law,” which bans abortion without exception and criminalizes physicians for providing lifesaving care.
This law makes ending any pregnancy a felony offense, even when the pregnancy cannot survive to viability and threatens the life of the mother. This impacts women experiencing miscarriages, tubal pregnancies, or even serious infections or cancers during pregnancy.
Tennesseans should have the right to make personal health care decisions with the assistance of their doctors and healthcare team – without the intrusion of politicians. This law puts the government in charge of deciding which healthcare options are available to patients, setting a dangerous precedent that violates the sacred physician-patient relationship. And because it includes zero exceptions – not for rape, incest, fetal anomaly, or even to protect the mother’s life – it forces health care providers to balance appropriate medical care with the risk of criminal prosecution.
We stand united in support of Tennesseans to make their own medical decisions including abortion care, and we affirm the position of all relevant national societies, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Medical Association in their opposition of this dangerous legislation.
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