League of Women Voters of Nashville
Position Paper on Access to Comprehensive Reproductive Services                                                                                                            August 23, 2022

Since 1993, the League of Women Voters has actively lobbied in support of health policy solutions to contain costs and ensure quality, affordable health care for all, including comprehensive reproductive health services. The League supports the right of all citizens to make their own reproductive choices, and believes that reproductive choice is not only a critical issue affecting the rights of women and all who may become pregnant, but one of racial and economic justice.  Overturning reproductive rights will disproportionately harm Black, Brown, and low-income people who are most impacted by systemic inequalities.

On June 24, 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court voted to overturn Roe v. Wade, a landmark decision in place for nearly 50 years that balanced the reproductive rights of women with the right of a viable fetus to be born. The Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization disregarded what most constitutional scholars had considered settled law, and ruled that reproductive choices in early stages of pregnancy no longer belong to women living in the U.S. but are now the purview of state legislatures.

The LWV of Nashville (LWVN) stands with the national League in calling for the U.S. Congress to enact legislation to restore the reproductive rights previously guaranteed by Roe v. Wade as soon as possible. However, we are gravely concerned that this will not happen in time to avert serious consequences for thousands of Tennessee women and their families. Due to state legislation passed between 2019 and 2021 and triggered by Dobbs, as of August 25, 2022 all abortions performed in Tennessee—even those considered medically necessary or sought in cases of child abuse, rape or incest, or severe fetal abnormality—will be considered criminal acts. Our state law will no longer recognize the mental stability of pregnant women as a valid health concern. Medical providers of obstetrical, gynecological and emergency medicine who intervene in a pregnancy at any point following conception can be subject to felony prosecution unless they can prove that taking no action would have resulted in the death or irreversible impairment of a bodily function of the mother.

The LWVN calls on Governor Bill Lee’s administration and the General Assembly to stay or repeal the state abortion laws that have been triggered by Dobbs. This ill-conceived legislation will unnecessarily deter or delay needed healthcare and have devastating consequences for thousands of women, children, and families across our state. Tennessee currently ranks 46th lowest among the 50 states in quality, cost, and access to women’s health care, 11th worst in maternal and fetal mortality rates, and 8th worst in childhood poverty. Black women in our state are 2.5 times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than White women, and pregnant persons with disabling health conditions face the highest mortality disparities. Women living in rural communities often have no or limited access to obstetrical care. Tens of thousands of Tennesseans of reproductive age who are living below the poverty level are denied access to preconception and contraceptive healthcare due to our state’s refusal to expand Medicaid.

Policy makers should focus on enabling every pregnancy in our state to be intended and on making it possible for every family to raise children safely, healthfully, and not in poverty. This includes not only expanding access to health care but also guaranteeing affordable child care and housing, a living wage, safe schools, and supportive social environments for families.

Until a national right to reproductive choice is codified in law by Congress, the LWVN will work to repeal Tennessee’s total abortion ban and oppose any abortion law which criminalizes medical interventions or denies exceptions for protecting the life, bodily function, and mental health of pregnant persons, or denies exceptions in cases of child sexual abuse, rape, incest or severe fetal abnormalities. The Board of the LWVN urges members to question all candidates running for office this fall regarding their positions on reproductive rights of women and the extreme restrictions of Tennessee’s abortion law, and to hold them accountable for past decisions.