Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Tennessee Bill Proposes Fetus Death Certificate

A Republican legislator in Tennessee has proposed a bill that would require doc's to file a certificate of death for aborted fetuses. Rep. Stacey Campfield says that this would give them a way to track the number of abortions performed every year. The thing is, the Office of Vital Records already tracks and makes this information public. What it doesn't track, or make public, is who - which would be on the death certificate. At least the woman's social security number, if not also name.

Of course, this is blatantly problematic, for the HIPAA violation if nothing else. Abortions are a medical procedure, and thus are covered by the HIPAA privacy laws; you cannot identify who had one on those grounds alone. HIPAA excluded, it's still an invasion of privacy. And on top of all of that, it grants a sort of back-end moral agency to a fetus. A death certificate implicitly requires the ability to die, dying requires status as a human life, not a potential human life.

And this is of course not to knock the view of those who do think a fetus is a moral agent, or a human life worth according all the rights of every human to. But the fact of the matter is, right now our law does not grant those rights to a fetus, and this seems like a very underhanded way to do so.

The obliteration of privacy is certainly the more pressing concern, though - it seems like a tactic designed to strongarm women to either not have abortions, flee to other states, or to unlicensed/unscrupulous abortion providers for an under the table (so to speak) abortion. Do we really want to return to those days? Can anyone see any validity to this law other than the extension of a right to life due to assigning human status to a fetus? (And again, I grant that this is a view many people hold, and realize many people would like abortion to be illegal based on this alone. Am I missing something aside from this?)


Anonymous said...

I'm a very staunch advocate of reproductive rights, and I agree with everything you've said. However, I have to wonder whether this would have an unintended benefit for the abortion rights movement. When I was working at Planned Parenthood, I noticed an absolutely shocking number of regular pro-life protesters getting abortions. Among both antis and moderates, the idea that "my situation's different" is prevalent. To make matters worse, the pro-choicers feel compelled to remain silent about their abortion experiences, which undermines the reproductive rights movement by allowing antis to cast abortion narratives exclusively in sin/redemption terms.

In the long run, the anti/moderate freeloaders and pro-choice silences undermine reproductive rights. However, if their choices are made part of the public record, then there's a much higher probability that the anti/moderate women will a) be more introspective about why they believe their situation is different, and/or b) change their opinion. More importantly, the solidly pro-choice women will be more likely to join groups like "I'm Not Sorry."

Rachel said...

Thanks for posting this - I'm really hoping a wider audience will hear about what is happening here. I have a post up with my thoughts, as well as links to comments from several other TN bloggers.

BuddhistValkyrie said...

Anonymous - yeah, that matches my experiences when I worked at Planned Parenthood. There was always a vaguely exasperated air of "you've got to be kidding me" when a pro-life protester came in for an abortion, convinced her story made her special and different and an exception to the rule.

Everyone wants the rule, but everyone wants to be an exception to it.

Unfortunately, I'm not convinced that a shame-based motivation will help much, although admittedly, when South Dakota's gov signed his abortion ban into law, a lot of younger, pro-life people were uncomfortable because of the wanting to be an exception rule. So perhaps it would work - but I don't think it's something that should be done, the violation of privacy and records, regardless of its effectiveness in the long run.

Sometimes, no matter how beneficial the longterm result might be, we have to say no, because of the shortterm abuses that will come from it.