For Tennesseans to truly determine our own reproductive and sexual lives on our terms, we need full access to local, affordable, safe, timely, and affirming healthcare and providers. We need comprehensive education about sex, sexuality, and reproduction. We need universal health insurance that covers the full range of reproductive and sexual healthcare needs. We need social and cultural spaces that affirm our choices rather than shame and stigmatize them. For now, Tennessee is lagging far behind the ideal of full access. Instead, many policies actively create barriers to treatment, education, and general reproductive health services for more and more people.
In 2016, TN legislators passed a counseling discrimination bill into law that dangerously allows for therapists and counselors to refuse service to anyone who's life conflicts with the counselor's "sincerely held principles." The law is an attack on LGBTQ individuals and aims to withhold and create barriers to healthcare.
Following the passage of Amendment 1 in 2014, a ballot measure establishing that the TN Constitution could not be interpreted to protect the privacy of people who have abortions, Tennessee lawmakers have since passed a number of regulations meant to create obstacles to care. Such obstacles include a mandatory 48-hour waiting period for people seeking abortions as well as a ban on tele-medically administered medication abortion. Only four of Tennessee's ninety-five counties have abortion providers--meaning many people travel hours to their nearest provider. Additionally, federal restrictions like the Hyde Amendment, which prevents federal funds being used toward abortion care, create extreme barriers to care particularly for individuals using Medicaid and Medicare.
In 2012, TN lawmakers passed a law encouraging public schools to teach and center "abstinence-based sex education" at the expense of Comprehensive Sex Education. Comprehensive sex education allows space for young people and all people to know and understand their own sexuality or asexuality and to be prepared for making informed and self-led choices about their reproductive and sexual lives.
Tennessee is also home to over 200,000 (and growing) state residents with no access to health insurance and no specific workplace protections for pregnant people who need accommodations on the job. In an "At-Will" state like Tennessee, employers are empowered to fire workers for any or no reason. When so many depend on employment for their health coverage, being unemployed means no guarantees for regular reproductive and sexual health screenings, STI testing and treatment, contraception, trans health care, abortion or fertility care. Many people who are working still aren't offered health insurance through their employers because of part-time work loopholes. Many available health insurance plans don't cover the costs of doula care or non-traditional birth plans.
The current health system works for very few people and actively limits access to choice and needed care for hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans.
Healthy and Free Tennessee monitors and advocates against policies that limit access to reproductive health choices and care. We advocate for policies that empower sexual health education and people's ability to choose and access the reproductive and sexual healthcare that's appropriate for them. Our specific campaigns may change each year, but check out the "Our Work" section of the website for more information on how we're currently working toward improved access.