Legislative and Strategic Intent

“Intent” is defined as 1) “something that is intended; purpose; design; intention: The original intent of the committee was to raise funds.” 2) “the act of fact of intending, as to do something: criminal intent.” 3) “Law, the state of person’s mind that directs his or her actions toward a specific object.” 4) “meaning or significance.”1 The intent of this post is to discuss two issues associated with the elected officials’ intent that have not gained enough of my attention to deserve their independent post… but enough attention to get at least a paragraph or two.

Legislative Intent

Courts, when considering law, may interpret legislative intent if the law is ambiguous, or appears not to address directly, or adequately, an issue. If the law is unambiguous, or crystal clear, US courts have determined, numerous times, that the legislative intent is obvious. When a law could be interpreted in numerous ways, the legislative intent must be determined by other sources than the actual text of the statute. Other sources include such things as hearings, floor debates, and legislature reports.

The Tennessee House Bill 3808, “Life Defense Act of 2012,” doesn’t seem to be ambiguous. The law, in a brief summary, would require doctors that perform abortions to report information (concerning every abortion) to the Tennessee Department of Health (TDH). The TDH in-turn would maintain data on:

(1) Identification of the physician who performed the abortion and the physician’s office, clinic, hospital or other facility where the abortion was performed;

(2) The county and state in which the woman resides;

(3) The woman’s age, race and marital status;

(4) The number of prior pregnancies and prior abortions of the woman;

(5) The gestational age in number of weeks of the unborn child at the time of the abortion;

(6) The type of procedure performed or prescribed and the date of the abortion; and

(7) Pre-existing medical conditions of the woman who would complicate pregnancy, if any, and, if known, any medical complication which resulted from the abortion itself.2

The bill would also require TDH to present this annual report on statistical data concerning abortions to the Tennessee General Assembly and made publicly available on the TDH website.3 Additionally, the bill states that the detailed report “shall be confidential in nature and shall not be accessible to the public …”4

It seems the gist of this bill is to require abortion doctors and medical facilities to increase the information that they report to TDH, and that detailed information is to be maintained by TDH. Detailed information, however, will not be made available to the General Assembly or the general public. The intent of this laws appears to be: to inform the Tennessee General Assembly (and the general public) of the number of abortions performed in the state. This type of information is readily available (now) to the Tennessee General Assembly by simply typing (in the Googles) “number of abortions in Tennessee.” Additionally, TDH already reports information on abortions in a similar manner without maintaining detailed information on abortion providers and patients.5 So what appears to be a legislative intent may not actually be so. The actual intent may be to add a new level of bureaucracy to medical facilities and doctors that perform abortions. Conversely, the legislative intent may be as simple as requiring Tennessee doctors, medical facilities, and TDH to maintain a database of certain (abortion) procedures.6

Some have argued that this is an attempt to intimidate women who may seek an abortion and the doctors who perform them. Supporters, both Tennessee legislators and the Tennessee Right to Life organization, state that the bill would simply require the data already collected be made publicly available, and that it is only “… fair for folks on both sides to see how prevalent abortion is in our counties and in our communities.” Legislative intent may be as simple as informing Tennesseans of abortion statistics or intimidate women… or both. Seems the courts will decide considering similar bills enacted in Oklahoma, North Carolina, and Texas have been challenged and judgement is pending. Intent is important when deciding how one feels about law.

Strategic Intent

 “Strategic intent is defined as a compelling statement about where an organization is going that succinctly conveys a sense of what the organization wants to achieve long-term.”7 George Friedman, at STRATFOR, argues that concept and intent of the “Long War” in Afghanistan (and Iraq) was, at its core, the defeat of the Taliban and Iraqi resistance would take a long time, however, the success would not be one in which these threats were destroyed. Instead, success would be constantly shifting based on where and how these enemy “forces” fight. 

Arguably, this intent may result in a “long war” that is the foundation of a US strategic policy that remains until the threat of Islamic terrorism disappears (unlikely) or is reduced (long time coming). Along this train of thought, Friedman argues that the recent atrocities committed by SSG Robert Blake may increase due to continued stress that multiple deployments (of a long war) have on individuals and military units. The use of volunteers instead of a draft is shown as a contributing factor in this possible increase in war and deployment stress.

Finally, Friedman states that there are four strategic assumptions of the “long war.” 1) The fight against extremist terrorism can be won. 2) Large-scale operations help achieve this victory. 3) The US is capable of fighting this type of “long war” without adjusting its domestic reality. Finally, 4) This intent and focus of the “long war” should continue to be the foundation of US strategy indefinitely. These assumptions seem to state that extremist Islamic terrorism is the most dangerous threat facing the US. Friedman argues that these assumptions are dangerous and harmful to America.

Constant “long war” “… has strained American resources. It has also strained the fabric of American life.”  These strategic assumptions of the “long war” and its intent “… undermine republican principles to overestimating military capabilities and committing the republic to a war whose end state is unclear and where the means are insufficient.” Conflict and war changes nation-states, societies, domestic life, and unfavorably shifts foreign policy. Ultimately, Friedman states that “long war” “… creates a professional class …” that fights wars, while the rest of the nation only “pays” for it, yet doesn’t see the conflict and war as part of their daily existence. Alienation of warriors from the society they protect is dangerous. Focusing on terrorism is pertinent, but claiming true victory is not doable. The intent of a “long war,” like all strategic goals, needs to be reevaluated.

The intent of elected officials in a democratic republic should always be available for public and voter examination. Questioning intent, not only in the courts, but through open and public dialogue is how elected officials and their intent is kept in perspective. Digging into that dialogue is one way to ensure voters affect intent, because in the end … elected official intent should mirror (on some level) voter/public intent.

1. Source

2. Tennessee House Bill 3808, Sec. 3(a)(1-7).

3. Ibid., (c)(1).

4. Ibid., (c)(2).

5. age, race, education and number of childre of the women, but does not list name of abortion provider or identify of the patient.

6. Interestingly, it is a little more difficult to determine the number of other types of medical procedures, such as open heart surgery, in Tennessee. Seems abortion statistics are tracked a lot more frequently than other types of surgery. Again, what is the intent of this legislation?

7. Source.

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