Tennessee’s Proposed Bills Violate Women’s Rights

Pre-covid protest for protecting access to abortion.

Two Tennessee lawmakers, Representative Jerry Sexton and Senator Mark Pody, recently proposed a bill that would allow biological fathers to prevent women from having abortions. This bill does not make an exception for incest or rape and does not require DNA from the alleged biological father as proof of his paternity – only a “voluntary acknowledgement of paternity that is not subject to being rescinded or challenged.”

This legislation allows men to establish paternity without proof nor confirmation from the pregnant woman. As the bill states, “The voluntary acknowledgement of paternity may be executed without the signature of the child’s mother.”

Once the man’s paternity is established, he has the power to deny an abortion, even if the woman were to claim he is not the father. The fact that this bill was even proposed and is now being considered is horrific, especially since Tennessee already has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country.

According to USA Today, Pody said, “I believe a father should have a right to say what’s gonna be happening to that child. And if somebody is going to kill that child, he should be able to say, ‘No, I don’t want that child to be killed. I want to [be] able to raise that child and love that child.’”

But what Pody obtusely failed to realize or cared to consider is that for the nine months in between, the person who would have to attend doctor’s appointments, take off work, and endure the debilitating and physical burdens of pregnancy is not the man.

In addition, the United States is the only developed country without a national legal provision for a paid maternity leave, as stated by the International Labor Organization, and pregnancy can be extremely dangerous and detrimental to the mother. According to U.S. health insurance company Blue Cross Blue Shield, nearly 10% of women who delivered a baby were diagnosed with postpartum depression (PPD) in 2018, and the number of women experiencing pregnancy and childbirth complications is on the rise.

So, unless Pody has also proposed a way to transplant an embryo or fetus into a man’s body to carry out the pregnancy, I don’t see any reason why male fathers and legislators should be able to dictate this decision.

Whether or not one believes life begins at conception, that a human embryo and fetus is equivalent to a living baby or that it deserves all the rights others have, this proposed legislation violates bodily autonomy and is utterly terrifying.

Bodily autonomy dictates that no one can force a person to give up or share her body against her will, even if that choice causes the death of another person. So, if someone needs another person’s kidney, liver or blood, no one can force that person to give them up. That means one’s individual right to life takes precedence over another person’s right to live. The same thing applies to women’s bodies.

Women should not have to give up their bodies or go through hours of grueling pain while their bodies are torn apart to give birth against their will. That embryo or fetus is using that woman’s body, and if she doesn’t want to share it, she shouldn’t have to. It’s her body and her choice. No one should have the ability to dictate health-related decisions for a woman and her body– not a man, partner or judge, regardless of paternity.

It’s important to note the decision of the Supreme Court case Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992) ruled that states are prohibited to require any person to notify their partner when seeking an abortion. This landmark case could mean that Sexton and Poty’s proposed legislation is unconstitutional.

Nonetheless, this bill is still dangerous and further perpetuates the patriarchal mentality – that men should have power over women’s bodies. In the interest of girls and women around the country, we can only hope that Senate Bill 494 and House Bill 1079 are not passed and that men will stop trying to take away women’s rights.