NASHVILLE, Tennessee – A majority of Tennessee State Senate voted to table the motion to reconsider the Heartbeat Bill through a recall, putting an end to any further action on the measure during this legislative session.
The Senate version of the Heartbeat Bill, SB1236 sponsored by Senator Mark Pody (R-Lebanon) was sent to “summer study” by the Judiciary Committee on April 9. Pro-life supporters fear that the Committee’s action will mean the end of the legislation, as summer study often does.
The House version of the bill, HB0077 sponsored by Representative Micah Van Huss (R-Jonesborough), passed the full House on March 7 by a vote of 65 Ayes, 21 Noes and 7 Present Not Voting.
As the sponsor of the bill, Senator Pody invoked Senate Rule 63 to recall the bill, and requested that action to be taken last week, as reported by The Tennessee Star.
The recall would require a simple majority vote by the members of the Senate. An affirmative vote would put the bill on a future calendar of the Senate so that the whole body could vote on it.
When the recall vote did not happen by last Thursday, Senator Pody vowed to request the vote during Monday evening’s scheduled Senate floor session.
The word of Senator Pody’s recall vote made its way through social media and was reported on by The Star. As such, several dozen pro-life people came in advance of the floor session wearing red and “heartbeat” buttons and were in attendance for a press conference held in the Capitol outside the Senate chambers at 3 p.m.
Senator Pody was accompanied by Pastor Dale Walker of Tennessee Pastors Network and Pastors Lyndon Allen and Ben Graham as well as Dr. Brent Boles, pro-life obstetrician and gynecologist who testified at the Senate Judiciary Committee meeting, Raul Lopez of Latinos for Tennessee and Cecelia DeSonia of Moms for Tennessee for the press conference.
Pastor Walker announced that he delivered a letter signed by 162 pastors and faith leaders across Tennessee to Governor Bill Lee and legislative leaders urging them to speak up and support Senator Pody’s efforts to protect the lives of unborn children, as The Star reported in breaking news.
Shortly before the 5 p.m. Senate floor session began, people wearing the signature Planned Parenthood pink and carrying pink signs with various messages, started to arrive. As Senators entered the chambers, a shouting contest began with the pro-abortion group and a few pro-lifers.
As the pro-lifers chanted, “God bless America,” they were met with a response of “Thank God for abortion.”
Meanwhile, most of the pro-life supporters were in the Senate gallery, which numbered in the 60s, while the pro-abortion group that made its way to the gallery totaled about 40.
Also in the gallery were Tennessee Right To Life Director Brian Harris as well as Legal Counsel and Legislative Liaison Will Brewer.
When the “Unfinished Business and Notices” portion of the agenda came up, Senator Pody immediately jumped from his chair and raised his hand seeking to be recognized. After three other personal orders, Senator Pody was called on by Speaker and Lt. Governor Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge).
Senator Pody made his remarks brief, speaking about the Senate Rule that allows for a recall, which was voted on by the body for a reason and allows enough flexibility to address unique circumstances. Senator Pody concluded that the rules are there to serve them, and not be their masters, before asking for a positive vote.
Senator Mike Bell (R-Riceville), who is Chairman of the Judiciary Committee and made the motion to send the Heartbeat Bill to summer study, was the first to speak.
He made it immediately clear that he opposed the recall motion.
Having received a number of emails and messages after sending the Heartbeat Bill to summer study accusing him of being a murderer, baby killer and taking money from Planned Parenthood, Senator Bell shared some of his personal history protesting abortion.
In the end, Senator Bell said that he believes the legislation is well intentioned, but believes the bill is taking the wrong approach at the wrong time.
Senator and Speaker Pro Tem Ferrell Haile (R-Gallatin) voiced his opinion that the bill needs to be delayed to a proper time, although he did not specify what the proper time would be. Stating that he doesn’t want to lose this battle, Senator Haile said he, therefore is opposed.
Senator Janice Bowling (R-Tullahoma) rose in opposition to the tabling motion. She said she, too, has been a long-time fighter, and, in response to Senator Bell and his fight, said she has 20 years on him.
Speaking to the differences in the Senate and House bills, Senator Bowling said this one has been constructed to establish personhood. She applauded Senator Pody and said the presentations in Judiciary Committee, of which she is a member, were astonishing.
“I would submit to you, Mr. Speaker,” said Senator Bowling, that we have a moral and spiritual obligation to stand up and speak out for those who cannot do so for themselves.
Senator Bowling ended up being the only one who supported the motion to recall, as she was followed by Senator Yager (R-Kingston) who disagreed with Senator Pody recalling the bill. Rather, Senator Yager seemed to support summer study so that legal challenges could be sustained.
The last to rise and the longest to speak was Senator Kerry Roberts (R-Springfield), who pointed out that he is one of the co-sponsors of the bill and proud to be. As observers had learned, speaking favorably of the bill or the sponsor did not translate into supporting Senator Pody’s recall motion.
Senator Roberts said his goal wasn’t to sway a vote, but sought to bring clarity on two separate issues that have been conflated and confused: position on life and position on the bill.
In the end, Senator Roberts said he didn’t believe the bill is strong enough to do what they hope it will do, which is overturn Roe v. Wade. Senator Roberts said that while he didn’t vote for summer study, he didn’t believe it was sent there to die.
With that, Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) made the motion to table the recall.
On voice vote, Lt. Governor McNally ruled that the Ayes had it.
When Senator Pody made a point of order that he wanted the vote to be on the board, McNally responded that his request applied to the bill. Therefore, there was no immediate record of the vote.
Reportedly, there were eight Senators who asked to be recorded as voting No on the tabling motion of SB 1236: Janice Bowling (R-Tullahoma), Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City), Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald), Frank Niceley (R-Strawberry Plains), Mark Pody (R-Lebanon), Shane Reeves (R-Murfreesboro), Paul Rose (R-Tipton & Shelby Counties), Dawn White (R-Murfreesboro).
After the vote, Francie Hunt, Executive Director of Tennessee Advocators for Planned Parenthood seemed to be in agreement with the Senate majority when she told The Star that anyone could see that the Heartbeat Bill – the six-week ban, essentially – is unconstitutional and fiscally irresponsible.
Senator Pody told The Star that, although the motion to recall was unsuccessful, the summer study will still proceed. The two days that were scheduled by Judiciary Committee Chairman for the purpose of establishing a legislative record are August 13 and 14.
Another pro-life bill known as the Human Life Protection Bill or “trigger bill,” SB 1257 sponsored by Senator Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville), which would revert state law to pre-1973 if Roe v. Wade were to be overturned by the United States Supreme Court, passed during the same Senate floor session by a vote of 26 Ayes and 5 Noes with 2 not voting.
The House version of the bill, HB 1029 sponsored by Representative Susan Lynn (R-Mt. Juliet), was recalled from to the House Health Committee after failing in a subcommittee. It went on to pass the full House on Monday by a vote of 69 Ayes and 24 Noes.
The trigger bill will not take effect unless and until there is either an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that reverts the regulation of abortion to the states or there is a case that successfully challenges Roe v. Wade to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Laura Baigert is a senior reporter at The Tennessee Star.