The Tennessee legislature passed one of the nation’s strictest abortion bills and Governor Bill Lee promised to sign it.
The bill would mandate ultrasounds for any woman wanting an abortion and ban the procedure, in most cases, if a heartbeat is detected. That can occur as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.
The bill would also ban abortions based on “sex, race or disability diagnosis of the unborn child” meaning that a child with down syndrome could not be aborted. The law would make no allowances for pregnancies that resulted from rape or incest.
“We have passed the strongest pro-life law in our state’s history and I am grateful to Lt. Gov McNally, Speaker Sexton, Leader Johnson, Leader Lamberth and members of our General Assembly for making the heartbeat bill law,” he added.
The Tennessee House had approved the measure earlier in the week, but since the legislature was near the end of its session, it was a surprise when the senate brought the measure to the floor and voted on it. It was attached to the budget bill and there was apparently some serious horse trading to wrangle the bill to the floor.
While there is an exception for medical emergencies, there are no exceptions in the bill for women who are victims of rape or incest. Both sides claim they are protecting the health of mothers.
Though critics said it won’t hold up in court, Lee claimed it was “enhanced” to be more likely to survive due to its “ladder” provision, similar to the Missouri bill, “of sequential abortion prohibitions at two-week gestational age intervals, along with severability clauses for each step of the ladder.”
Planned Parenthood is obviously displeased.
“In the dead of night, Tenessee politicians hellbent on chipping away at abortion access blocked citizens from entering the state Capitol while they used this draconian abortion ban to pass the state budget,” Ashley Coffield, president & CEO, Planned Parenthood Tennessee and North Mississippi, said in a statement. “While Tennesseans are concerned about their health and safety during a pandemic, politicians used women’s lives as a bargaining chip to push their political agenda.”
The bill has several other provisions near and dear to the hearts of the pro-life community.
It would also make it a Class C felony for a doctor to perform an abortion in any of those situations, and the physician must also:
· Determine and inform the mother of the gestational age of the fetus.
· Allow the woman to hear the fetal heartbeat and explain the location of the unborn child within the uterus.
· Conduct an ultrasound and display the images to the mother.
· Provide an explanation of the fetus’s dimensions and which external body parts and internal organs are present and visible.
The Supreme Court has yet to approve of any fetal heartbeat standard, striking down similar bills in Ohio, Georgia, Iowa, and Mississippi. It’s a tough hill to climb but the pro-life community believes they may have a good chance in Tennessee.
According to WTVF News 5, state Rep. William Lamberth, R-Portland, expressed hope that the legislation will be upheld in court and save lives.
“Every time we have passed a measure that was in favor of a life in the womb, it has been challenged in the courts…” Lamberth said. “This bill is in such solid legal footing. We feel good about the fact that it could save millions of lives. And those lives are their most vulnerable because they are still in their mother’s womb.”
I am dubious of success in the courts simply because of the standard that needs to me met — viability of the fetus.
The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals said the following about its ruling on the six-week abortion ban: “Because there is no genuine dispute that (North Dakota’s law) generally prohibits abortions before viability — as the Supreme Court has defined that concept — and because we are bound by Supreme Court precedent holding that states may not prohibit pre-viability abortions, we must affirm the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the plaintiffs.”
It’s more likely that the pro-life lobby will achieve its ends if the Supreme Court were to overturn Roe. That may happen with a couple of more conservative justices on the bench. And that will only happen if Donald Trump wins re-election.