Tennessee vs Arizona: Which is the Worst?

Pretty much every state in the US has been introducing and passing awful, anti-science, anti-woman legislation, but two states in particular have recently been locked in a heated battle for Worst State Ever: Tennessee and Arizona. Let’s look at what’s been going down, and then you be the judge.

Arizona is probably best known for being super racist, like when Governor Jan Brewer signed that bill that required cops to demand immigration papers from anyone who looks like an illegal immigrant.

Last year, Arizona politicians were able to combine their racism with a fresh brand of misogyny, creating a legendary, Reeses’ Peanut Butter Cup-esque combination to terrorize nearly everyone with a bill that would force women to declare that they were not aborting their fetus due to race or sex, and would imprison any doctor who couldn’t provide proof of that declaration.

Today, Jan Brewer took it a step further and signed a bill that makes Arizona one of the worst states in the union if you happen to be pregnant with an embryo or fetus you don’t want.

For starters, the bill declares that pregnancy begins at a woman’s last period, which is fine for women with normal cycles (that’s usually how pregnancies are dated anyway unless and until an ultrasound is performed) but could obviously be ridiculous for women with irregular periods. As a fellow Skepchick pointed out, if she were to get pregnant today, she’d be about 19 weeks pregnant by that bill’s standards and she wouldn’t even know she was pregnant for at least a few more weeks. In the end, she would practically have to abort a toddler.

This bill is also one of the many in the US that bans abortion at 20 weeks based on the completely unscientific claim that that’s when the fetus begins to feel pain.

The worse news is that the Arizona bill effectively outlaws abortions that only require medication, which is often taken by abortion seekers in their first 9 weeks of pregnancy (about 20% of all abortions). Medication abortions would be illegal unless they take place within 30 miles of a hospital – often those pills are taken at clinics or homes outside that radius.

And there’s so much more to this bill! From the Daily Beast:

Other parts of the law includes education in public schools prioritizing birth and adoption, signs throughout health-care facilities warning against abortion “coercion,” and an order for the state health department to create and maintain a website touting alternatives to abortion and displaying images of fetuses. Also required is abortion counseling for women aiming to abort pregnancies due to fetal abnormalities, and if the abnormality is certain to be fatal, the counseling incorporates perinatal hospice information before ending the pregnancy. It reaffirms existing barriers to access, like the requirement of a notarized parental consent form for minors and a mandatory ultrasound screening within 24 hours of having an abortion.

So I think we can all agree that Arizona definitely deserves to be in the running for Worst State Ever. However, Tennessee isn’t giving up so easily!

You may be aware that this week, Tennessee passed the Monkey Bill, so named due to its resemblance to the 1925 Scopes trial, which also occurred in Tennessee and was also a great big shitshow of ignorance. The Monkey Bill allows teachers to “teach the controversy” of subjects like, yes, evolution, which is in no way controversial amongst scientists or those with any appreciation of science. Global warming is also caught in the crossfire as a “controversial” topic. Students in the state will now officially be free to go off into the world understanding nothing about some of the most important topics in science and public policy.

Also this week, Tennessee senators approved an update to the state’s abstinence-only education policy – which, I should add, doesn’t work seeing as the state has one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the country – which would outlaw the teaching of “gateway sexual activity.” I know what you’re thinking: what is this “gateway sex” all the kids are talking about? Is it as awesome as oral?

According to Tennessee legislatures, “gateway sexual activities” are kissing and hand holding. You know, things that small children do. Joyous things that bring us closer together, as humans. Ways we express affection every day. Evil.

The bill would warn teens about the dangers of kissing and hand holding, and prohibit teachers from demonstrating such activities. I’m not really clear on whether that means a teacher would be fired for, say, kissing his wife when she picks him up at the end of the day. And what about the teachers of small children who need their hand held every now and again? Off limits? Again, unsure.

What I am sure about is that a bill effectively warning teens about affection is one of the saddest things I’ve ever heard. But what do you think? Is Arizona worse for increasingly limiting the rights women have over their own bodies, or is Tennessee worse for providing us with a future world full of idiots who think evolution and global warming are myths and holding hands is a sin?

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

Related Articles


  1. Shit, I have blogged about both these things this week alone. You have no idea how frustrating and embarassing it is to live in Arizona. Seriously. Clear thinkers are getting buried under all this CRAP! T\It's like the GOP knows it's on the way out so they're dumping anything they can think of into law before they go.

    1. As a Tucsonan, I would like to point out that what's crazy is the Arizona legislature. The Arizona people are much better, as evidenced by the various initiatives that pass. In 2006 alone we raised the minimum wage, instituted stricter bans on smoking in public places, and prohibited some of the most inhumane forms of animal confinement. I mean, if you think those things are good, which I do.

      1. I'm sure there are good people and bad people there, the same goes for every state. Unfortunately, I (and many others) have experienced a lot of racism from some of the folks in AZ. 

  2. I'm going to go ahead and vote for Tenessee.  Arizona is still just as awful as Chuck D said it was, but Tenessee is finding new an innovative ways to be completely terrible.  They win points for novelty.  

    1. I gotta say I'm leaning toward AZ at this moment, if only for the reason that the gateway sexual activity bill has so far only passed (if it ends up getting signed into law I'll might switch my vote). If you just put the AZ abortion law against the TN Monkey Law, the AZ law seems to me to be much more likely to have a negative (even devastating) impact on people's lives. That's not to say that the Monkey Law doesn't seriously suck, of course. 
      Slightly OT, but I lived in Mississippi for 2 years in the late 90s, and at the time you couldn't have convinced me that there was a worse state in the union. Looking at the current competition, and considering that MS voters recently voted down a personhood amendment, I might have to re-assess – it seems that MS has fallen behind in the race to the bottom. Go Mississippi?!

  3. One of the most fun nights of my life was a drunken group read-along of "How to Kiss with Confidence". (Still available on amazon!)  It told you how to kiss and the danger signals of when to stop like "increased breathing" or "enjoyment." It sounds like Tennessee is trying to teach a sex-ed curriculum based on this. Good freaking luck.

  4. Just as Spellwight says, it is frustrating being a rational thinker in Arizona. Our legislature is dominated by a group of nitwit buffoons and u, unfortunately, their is a large enough population of contituent nitwits to keep them in office.
    The idea of Baja Arizona is looking better everyday!

  5. This is like watching a real life, unbelievable, horror show unfolding before my eyes and I am utterly helpless to do anything except struggle to understand how this could happen?

  6. Tennessee or Arizona? Isn't this like picking between death by chainsaw or death by flamethrower? blech

      1. I'd pay to see Brewer vs. Haslam in the Thunderdome. Winner faces Joe Arpaio, but he'll need to bring a verified birth certificate to prove that he was actually born in the U.S.

  7. See, the real issue is: Do I stay, because dammit, this is my home, and I'm not here because I agree with the racist, misogynistic, narrow-minded bigots, I'm here for the fact that the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is in my BACKYARD? Or do I leave my family, friends, home, job, school, and everything else that makes my life meaningful to move to Seattle? Yes, I do vote, and yes, I do make my opinions heard, but unfortunately, too many people who think like me move the hell out instead of standing ground and fighting. This is what really pisses me off about "states' rights", which become more and more obsolete as we move towards a global economy. If this rant is incoherent, it's because I'm currently foaming at the mouth. Screw you, Haslam, screw you so hard.

    1. Well if you move to Seattle you'll have the Olympic National Park in your front yard, Mt Rainer National Park in your back yard, and the North Cascades National park next door, not to mention ocean, cool islands, and all the great coffee you can drink! Oh, and sorry about your state politics.

  8. I swear, the more things stay the same the more they don't change. I went to a Southern Baptist college in East TN in the late 60s. The year before I started the school admin changed the rules allowing "public expressions of affection" (their words) so kissing and holding hands wouldn't get you expelled…that is, if you were a properly heterosexual, racially correct couple. Gay and mixed-race couples need not apply. My soph year, the theater department even did a production of Inherit the Wind. Now this! Baby steps forwared, giant leaps back.

  9. Going to have to vote for Tennessee here.
    Just one question though- 

    the requirement of a notarized parental consent form for minors

    Isn't this a requirement for any medical procedure? Or this something additional?

    1. It is actually unusual, for a few reasons.  One is that HIPPA allows medical professionals to keep confidential (from the parents and anyone else) "sensitive" medical information like STI test results, drug or alcohol use, etc. of a minor.  This allows minors to be honest with their doctors, without fear of reprisal from parents.  I am extremely in favor of this rule.
      Additionally, the potential results of a teen disclosing to her parents that she wants an abortion can be catastrophic.  Often the whole reason she may be choosing abortion over other options is because of lack of support from her family.  In situations of abuse (physical, sexual, or emotional) this law puts those teens at very high risk.
      Remember that these kinds of laws are not designed to help people make better, more informed, decisions.  They are designed to punish women and girls for being sexual creatures.  This law is just that – it creates a situation in which teen girls will be punished for getting pregnant.  That is the whole reason for the law.

    2. When I was a naive teenager, I used to think that it was essentially that: just the implementation of a rule that is generally in effect anyway.  Turns out it's a lot more sinister than that.
      Ultimately, what it comes down to is that doctor-patient confidentiality is essential, and even more important in cases that would be controversial when in public view.  Standing in the way of that impugns people's agency, and in this case does so in a very sexist and manipulative manner.

      1. You both seem to be missing the really weird part of that statement: "notarized" – NO STATE requires that parents get a notarized form for any medical procedure for their own children. What this seems to be is a really nasty way of creating a legal trail that could be called into court to prosecute the parents – becasue they can't prosecute minors . . . oh gee – what do we call that again… ah, yes: entrapment.
        If the ACLU gets a hold of this they may be able to do something about it because that is, to use a very Southern phrase, beyond the pale.

  10. Sorry–no compromise.
    We Tennesseans are a prideful people (see above) and it is that pride is one of the things that drives our status as the worst.  The "Zonies" can only stand on the sidelines in awe of our worst-ness.
    Another sign of our Tennessee worst-ness is the amount of crap with which we can come up.  These two recent bills passed by the legislature are good examples.  Another example is what you are reading right now.
    ps: I'll be at NECSS next week if anyone wants to engage in any "gateway sexual activities".

  11. So, with the "Teach the Controversy" bill, I wonder how the state would deal with a teacher who used said freedom to say "Creationism, and it's idiot child, Intelligent Design, is complete bunk. They fail the basic tests of science, and are roughly as useful as saying 'a wizard did it', but without being as cool as a Simpsons reference."

    1. I haven't read the law, but unless it is carefully worded, it would invite just what you say.  Teachers have the opportunity to teach that some benighted people hold views uninformed and intellectually repugnant.
      (I live in New Hampshire.  My fellow voters, whose brains have been dissolved by New Hampshire's radon, are choosing their legislators with great care.  We will make Tennessee and Arizona look like conferences of geniuses.)

  12. Am going to have to vote Tennessee on this one for their originality. Seriously, holding hands and kissing are somehow a threat to civilisation as we know it… WTF?! Nice one, Tennessee.

  13. Funny thing is my last two exes were from Arizona and Tennessee, respectively. That said, both states seem pretty bad places to be for a woman like me: brown, poor , childfree (Not sex free ;)) and looking to get a science degree :P

  14. Sigh.  I guess my firmly worded letter to Governor Haslam (TN) didn't work.  I even tried to appeal to his economic sense, since that seems to be more impressionable than his scientific sense. 
    Still, I can't help loving Tennessee. Grew up in GA, moved to NYC, then to TX, now in Nashville. It's so beautiful here, and there are some truly wonderful people. I'll take a hit for the Skeptical Team and stay put in order to infiltrate from within!! 

    BTW, you guys forgot to mention AZs removal of the Mexican-American studies program (it's also the only ethnic studies program that was dismantled) after claims that it "fostered resentment of white people."

  16. Wisconsin has also recently repealed it's "Equal Pay" law AND got rid of requirements for comprehensive sex education.  We're well on our way to catching up (down?) with AZ and TN.

  17. Reading about this festival of  batshit craziness and  stupidity that both states seem to revel in makes me even more grateful I live in Oregon!! I think both states are equally odious in their choice of elected officials and the vile laws they produce. So for me it's a tie…and I'll keep being delighted I live in a progressive city in a state, that while it has it's convervative rural areas, at least they are kept in check by the more progressive metro areas.

  18. Wow. I can just see me 5 year old Josh gettign explelled for holdings hands with his best freind Abby.  Those are two states I could not handle living in. 

    1. It's anyone's guess as to how to make this input box work right ~_~ .  You may have tried HTML directly, and that doesn't work?  We need a preview function, at least (*_*) .
      <b>Testing 1.  Prediction: this tag will be escaped.</b>
      <p>Testing 2.</p>

    2. I see now.  It's intended to be a what-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) style editor.  However, there doesn't seem to be any way to switch it to a mode to show the code, even though I've seen that on other WordPress based sites…
      Paragraphs apparently require a double line break, not a single line break.  Even though it shows them as though they are distinct paragraphs after one use of the enter key.
      Bold and Italic seem to be fairly straightforward: select the text to style and then click the B and I buttons.
      Links and images are more complicated.  There's these weird sub-dialogs that have to be used. for instance.  Most of the options on the advanced tab are nearly meaningless for a comment entry, so far as I can tell.  Only the URL, target, and name should matter…?
      Images are a little like links with their own sub-dialog.  Enter the URL to identify it and the alt text to determine what shows up when you hover the mouse over it.  After entering the URL, the size seems to be set automatically.  However, you can decrease the size to inline scale it, like this:
      Have a Cat

  19. It's a tie!    Thumping the Bible Thumpers should be a huge priority for all sane Americans regardless of their political proclivities!   His Frothiness, Rick S. dropping out of the Repub. primaries is a good first step, but there are a lot of crazies at all levels of government doing their best to drive the good ole USA back into the dark ages.

  20. "So now in Arizona, a woman is legally considered pregnant 2 weeks before actual, real conception. It's like the Schrodinger's Cat of reproduction legislation."
    – Mary Calvin

  21. Apples and oranges. If Obama wins again the militias there would probably secede anyway and teach their crazy- assedness behind a wall of guns. Then I would chain myself to my Massachusetts license plate and seek dual citizenship in Finland. The Creationist document is pretty scary but I'd say they're aiming for similar goals; sending us back to the dark ages.

  22. Tennessee is whackier, but I think Arizona wins hands down in actual, demonstrably damagine and vile legislation.
    Oddly, I've lived in both states…

  23. Very good article. Arizona is like Alabama with cactus; Tennessee is the mirror image of "Kensucky": Lots of grass, water and whiskey! Arizona, where we have erected a Berlin Wall more dastardly than the one in Germany and Tennessee where "We don't need no (public) education. No dark sacrasm in the classroom-"

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Back to top button