The state House and Senate voted by lopsided margins Wednesday to require medical offices to post signs warning it's illegal to coerce women to have abortions.
"Notice," the signs will read. "It is against the law for anyone, regardless of the person's relationship to you, to coerce you into having or to force you to have an abortion. By law, we cannot perform an abortion on you unless we have your freely given and voluntary consent. It is against the law to perform an abortion on you against your will. You have the right to contact any local or state law enforcement agency to receive protection from any actual or threatened criminal offense to coerce an abortion."
The bill, which passed the House 87-8 and the Senate 28-2, fines clinics $2,500 and physicians $1,000 for every day the sign isn't posted conspicuously in patient waiting areas at clinics wherever abortions are performed. The legislation specifies the signs must be printed in 40-point type.
The bill's advocates say the signs are needed because many women are pressured to have abortions by Planned Parenthood counselors, the men in their lives and others. In a House committee, lawmakers rejected an amendment to make the sign also say that it's illegal to coerce a woman not to have an abortion.
There was no debate Wednesday in either the House or Senate. But in a Memphis Commercial Appeal opinion piece, one of the bill's opponents, Sen. Beverly Marrero, D-Memphis, wrote:
"We all know this legislation is purely political, designed to increase the anti-abortion bona fides of lawmakers up for re-election this year. It is in the same vein as the Tennessee Health Freedom Act, a bill that purports to supersede the federal health care reform signed into law by President Barack Obama last week.
"As lawmakers continue to posture and position themselves for the campaign trail, Tennesseans continue to suffer from prolonged unemployment, thinly stretched budgets, and even foreclosure and bankruptcy."