After Tennessee’s law criminalizing abortion went into effect, Chloe Akers, a criminal defense attorney for the state of Tennessee, addressed MTSU students about the importance of voting and understanding the legislative process.
The new law makes it a criminal offense for anyone to perform an abortion, punishable up to 15 years in prison. Akers said the state government and legislators have left doctors and other professionals related to this medical procedure clueless on how to proceed with the sudden change in the legality of abortions. She said this will cause people who specialize in women’s health to move to states with less strict abortion laws to avoid being charged with malpractice or criminal offenses, leaving Tennessee women in need of doctors and medical assistance.
In her presentation, Akers pointed out that Tennessee is now one of two states that has no exception for having an abortion even as a product of rape, incest or out of medical necessity, such as ectopic pregnancy or lethal fetal anomaly.
“If you thought it couldn’t get any worse than having this law, it’s that the people who passed it didn’t understand it and that’s terrifying,” said Akers.
During the passing of this bill, two senators expressed that it did in fact take the mothers health into consideration but Akers said in reality, it provides no safety for people dealing with the risks of pregnancy.
Soon after the law went into effect, she created the nonprofit foundation Standing Together Tennessee. The homepage of the foundations reads, “Standing Together Tennessee is a legal resource center founded to assist providers, attorneys, and patients in navigating the consequences of Tennesse’s Trigger Ban on Abortion.”
Akers said that there has not been a need for criminal defense lawyers in relations to health care rights. The legal systems are having to adjust quickly to the effects of the law, creating a whole new line of work. Her foundation exists to help educate people who have to deal with abortions and the legal steps that need to be taken.
Julie Edwards, a patient advocacy and community engagement organizer for Tennessee Advocates for Planned Parenthood and the second speaker at the event, expressed concern about the lack of education legislators have on how pregnancy works and the female anatomy. Both Akens and Edwards share a fear for the state of women’s rights now that the ban is in effect.
When it was proposed that women can travel to a neighboring state, Akens said, “Our legislators are going to try to introduce laws to limit women’s ability to travel.”
Edwards urged the audience to vote on who is in Tennessee’s government and to pay attention to the laws being passed. She said individual involvement is important to make the changes in order to have a safe country for everyone. Akens said this law will not be changed by the court system but by legislation, so voting is essential.
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