Ahead of coming primary fight, Tracy pushes ‘ultrasound bill'

Monday, February 18, 2013 at 1:25am
0218 Tracy Topper.jpg
State Sen. Jim Tracy (Michael W. Bunch/SouthComm)


Political insiders say the latest attempt to change the state’s abortion laws was born out of last year’s election.

In the final throes of the political cycle, staunchly anti-abortion Congressman Scott DesJarlais found himself engulfed in controversy over a former lover he had pressured to get an abortion.

The news dominated the final weeks of the campaign, but the first-term Republican still walked away a duly elected representative of the 4th Congressional District for the next two years. Then more news broke that he supported his ex-wife’s two abortions before the couple was married.

It took only a few weeks for Republicans pining for a chance at a seat in Washington to put political targets on DesJarlais’ back and announce they would oppose him in the primary in 2014. Among them were two state representatives plus state Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville.

Now Tracy is taking aim at abortion.

His legislation would require women looking to terminate their pregnancy to first see a real-time ultrasound of the unborn embryo or fetus in their womb. While physicians typically perform such ultrasounds to confirm the pregnancy and predict gestation, it’s been up to the woman whether she wants to see the images for herself.

Under Tracy’s legislation, a woman who refused to look at the ultrasound would have to listen to the doctor describe the scene, complete with details on the appearance of arms and legs and the development of vital organs. The bill would require women to listen to the heartbeat, if detectable, and receive a sonogram of the fetus’s image. The only exceptions would be in the case of a medical emergency or spontaneous miscarriage,

The move also builds in a 24- to 72-hour waiting period between the ultrasound and the abortion procedure, which Tracy said is important to ensure women undergoing abortions understand all of the ramifications.

“It’s a very emotional time for them and it gives them time to think about their decision. That’s the way I look at it,” he said, adding the bill has “absolutely nothing” to do with politics.

“It is me, in my heart, to inform the mother on this life-altering decision. That was it for me, and people can say what they want to, which they do, and that’s OK with me.”

The bill is part of a new wave of anti-abortion legislation tapping technology to coerce or pressure women not to terminate their pregnancy, critics say. Eight other states now have working laws that require physicians to ask women to look at their ultrasound before they can undergo an abortion, including Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas and Virginia. North Carolina and Oklahoma both have similar laws tied up in court.

But House Speaker Beth Harwell — arguably the most powerful woman in the state — is no fan of the bill.

“There are probably better ways to go about making people aware of what really happens in an abortion,” she told The City Paper. “I think there are higher priorities for us when it comes to the pro-life movement, and to me that would be SJR127, which is coming up, and I would rather focus our attention there.”

SJR127 is a suggested change to the Tennessee Constitution. In 2014, voters will be asked if they want to change their guiding document so it no longer “secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion.”

That vote, and publicity over the choice, will come the same year Tracy plans to face off against DesJarlais.

The vote comes down to a referendum where a majority of voters are needed to agree to the constitutional change, giving power to elected lawmakers in what is now the Republican-dominated legislature to decide whether abortions should be legal. If the vote falls short of a majority, the current language in the constitution sticks.

The total number of abortions is down in Tennessee, according to the state Health Department. Officials tracked 12,368 abortions by state residents in 2011, the latest year with data available. That number is down by nearly 200 over 2007.

Shelby County led the state with almost 4,600 abortions in 2011. That year, Davidson County saw nearly 2,200 abortions.

Of the abortions among Tennessee residents, nearly two-thirds occur during the first eight weeks of the pregnancy, according to the state. Of those, half are performed before reaching the seven-week mark when the fetus is almost the size of a grape.

If passed, a Tennessee ultrasound law would likely face a court challenge. In 2000, the state Supreme Court struck down waiting periods for abortions and other restrictions on the basis they violated the state constitution.

While Tracy said he would proceed carefully with his bill, he said his objective isn’t to scare or shame women into deciding against the abortion — as critics charge — but said he wants patients to have all the information possible before deciding to give up on a pregnancy.

“This just gives her a little more information, in my opinion,” he said.

Tennessee currently has laws on the books to ensure women understand all their options and the gravity of the decision to have an abortion, including information on how the procedure is done, the benefits and risks, and the alternative options of parenthood and adoption. Women are required to sign off that they understand these details, as well as verify they have thought about their decision and are moving forward under their free will.

“We think it is a gross intrusion into a woman’s private medical decisions,” said Jeff Teague, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee who has vowed to fight the bill. “It’s legislators trying to play doctor.”

Right now, women seeking abortions have the option of eight facilities across the state, including two in Nashville, one of which is a Planned Parenthood clinic. There are three others in Memphis, two in Knoxville and one in Bristol.

Doctors have yet to weigh in on the matter.

“Most physicians don’t like to be told how to practice,” said Gary Zelizer, a lobbyist for the Tennessee Medical Association, which plans to decide by the end of the month whether to take a formal position on the bill.

“They like the flexibility and, quite honestly, they have to deal with patients who are different. Patient A is different from Patient B, and don’t tell me to treat them all identical. But obviously, abortion is a different animal. Everybody understands that,” he said.

19 Comments on this post:

By: Ask01 on 2/18/13 at 5:22

Combined the roadkill bill, "Don't Say Gay," and Tennessee police officers stopping a car with a buckeye sticker, believing the image was cannabis, this somewhat suspect bit of legislation will help drive the national opinion of the state even lower.

What a fine example of Southern politicians run amok.

By: Loner on 2/18/13 at 7:22

This Jim Tracy character is just another born-again theocrat trying to shove his values down everyone else's throat...a typical, hypocritical, Southern Tea Bagger. Nothing new about that...what's new is that this jerk is trying to go to the right of Scott DesJarlais, the gun-in-mouth US Rep from TN and extremist Tea Bagger.

If men bore the children, not the women, Jim Tracy would be saluting those men who had the courage and temerity to undergo an abortion, instead of trying to roll back their rights and freedoms. This guy is a male chauvinist pig...I suggest that the voters skewer him and roast this fattened pig of a politician.

As a born-again Jesus freak, JimTracy supports the state of Israel at every level. Tracy has never said a single word about US taxpayers paying for 50,000 Israeli abortions every year in their US-supported health care delivery system. Why the silence, Jim?

These right-to-lifers ought to be demanding that US aid to Israel be pulled, because of their high abortion rate and government sponsorship of abortion clinics...but no, these born-again US politicians would rather restrict American women's rights, not those of the female Chosen People in the Promised Land.....Go figure.

By: pswindle on 2/18/13 at 11:56

Jim stay out of women's rights. What gives you the right to take away what the Supreme Court has given the women of this Nation. Your Mother needs to give you a good spanking, and if you have a wife she needs to leave such an idiot as you. Do you tell her what to eat ,wear and what she can to with her life? Do you keep up with her every move? Surely, we in TN can elect better people to represent us. The women do not want their rights taken away. Women, this is your chance to stand up.

By: joe41 on 2/18/13 at 2:23

I propose a bill that requires Jim Tracy to be celibate for the rest of his life.

Seriously, we should opt for less government interference in our lives rather than more. Tracy's bill is one that I will vehemently oppose because it infringes upon people's freedom.


By: joe41 on 2/18/13 at 2:27

"Under Tracy’s legislation, a woman who refused to look at the ultrasound would have to listen to the doctor describe the scene, complete with details on the appearance of arms and legs and the development of vital organs. The bill would require women to listen to the heartbeat, if detectable, and receive a sonogram of the fetus’s image. The only exceptions would be in the case of a medical emergency or spontaneous miscarriage," You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink. So then, do you kill the horse?

By: rawhide on 2/18/13 at 2:44

Well, pswindle and loner, there are a lot of women who oppose abortion. What is your rationale for making them shut up about it?

And yikes Loner, you might want to seek some counseling. But you're kind of overlooking the biology of all this aren't you? What is in a pregnant woman's womb is an innocent, individual human life isn't it?

And though I'm not sure I would support the part about narrating everything to the pregnant woman (giving an image or print out and data to them is probably all you can do as long as society condones abortion), this is a fine way to make sure that a woman has been informed about the surgical/medical procedure she is seeking.

Of course, I'm assuming that you, Ms. Zelenski, have a basis for questioning the motives of Tracy's decision to sponsor the bill? If so, it would be appropriate to state that basis. Obviously it bolsters the pro-abortion position to imply that Tracy is not sincere or anything other than machiavellian in sponsoring the bill. And though it was a little obfuscated in the article, you're saying that approximately 8,000 abortions in Tennessee in 2011 were of innocent human life which was larger than a grape?

By: pswindle on 2/18/13 at 5:47

Do you want to help take care of these babies? When they are born, they eat, and need care until they are adults, some need help the rest of their lives. There are more to babies than just giving birth. DO YOU KNOW HOW MANY ANTI-ABORTION PARENTS TAKE THEIR GIRLS OUT OF THE COUNTRY FOR ABORTIONS OR TO ANOTHER STATE? THEY HIDE IT, AND THEN COME BACK AND PREACH AGAINST IT. WOMEN SHOULD HAVE FREEDOM OF CHOICE AS MEN DO. How many men run from their obligation?

By: Left-of-Local on 2/19/13 at 10:50

Tracy, and all those who support him and this sort of notion and law are neanderthal misogynist twats. Only in the south could we breed these sorts of hateful, nasty morons.

By: rawhide on 2/19/13 at 1:24

Actually, pswindle, I do take care of disadvantaged children in a variety of ways . . . tax dollars and charitable contributions for one. But does that make abortion right? BTW, has abortion cut down on the amount of poverty, child abuse, government spending on poverty? Actually, it is much more difficult for men to shirk the responsibility now, but it is certainly not my policies or views--on marriage, divorce, welfare spending--that promote these underlying problems you're so concerned about. It is sad that you would rather promote abortion than discourage all the conduct that makes it "necessary."

By: Blanketnazi2 on 2/20/13 at 7:23

rawhide, I don't think anyone "promotes" abortion but it is a healthcare issue that involves the mother and should not involve the government making the decision for her.

By: bfra on 2/20/13 at 3:12

By: Blanketnazi2 on 2/20/13 at 7:23
rawhide, I don't think anyone "promotes" abortion but it is a healthcare issue that involves the mother and should not involve the government making the decision for her.

That should be the cut & dried, final say on the entire issue!

By: rawhide on 2/21/13 at 10:02

Blanketnazi2, bfra: Sounds like pswindle is promoting abortion to me. He/she/it certainly doesn't oppose it, nor does either of you. And I'm assuming you misspoke by referring to the pregnant woman as "mother"? Mother of what?

By: pswindle on 2/21/13 at 11:40

As of now, the Supreme Court has upheld abortion. If you do not want an abortion, you do not get one. If you believe in a woman's right to choose that is your decision. No one is making anyone get an abortion, but just upholding the right. I can't understand why some intrude in the lives of others because they have different opinions. Life in TN was much better under democrats. They did not get in our bedrooms and personal lives. I liked that better.

By: rawhide on 2/21/13 at 2:11

So you're opposed to abortion, pswindle?

But your assertion that that opposition to abortion is rooted in a desire "to intrude in the lives of others" is insulting (and without basis). Not to mention gun-grabbing, soda-prohibiting, socialized-medicine-imposing etc. etc. etc. are plainly "intruding" on the lives of Tennesseans.

By: Jughead on 2/21/13 at 2:18

It is disgusting that a woman would allow her CHILD to be chopped up in a blender, then disposed of as medical waste. Why don't liberals stand up for the child's right to object to being murdered without due process?

By: Left-of-Local on 2/21/13 at 2:19

Why don't conservatives respect science?

By: Blanketnazi2 on 2/21/13 at 2:40

There are many reasons why someone would choose abortion other than just not wanting to be a parent. Has that ever occurred to you guys? If the pregnancy puts the mother at risk or the fetus does not have a chance to live after birth that decision should be made by the woman, NOT the government.

By: rawhide on 2/21/13 at 4:46

Okay Left-of-Local, I'll play. What is "scientific" about support for abortion?

Blanketnazi2, you ought to look into the data on the stated reasons given by those seeking an abortion, but is it correct to conclude that you oppose abortion except in the situations you listed?

By: Loner on 3/7/13 at 6:52

If the sponsors of the ultrasound bill want to help kids, they could do a lot more for those already born....those most opposed to women having a choice are also the most opposed to governmental programs to benefit mothers and children...the two positions, though morally incongruous, go hand in hand in the Tea-Bagged GOP....they have a logic all of their own....spare the fetus, abandon the child....its not just mean-spirited, it's irrational.