NASHVILLE, Tennessee – A group of middle Tennessee pro-life grassroots activists rallying behind the bill that would ban abortions in the state after a fetal Heartbeat is detected spent a day on Capitol Hill talking with legislators.
As reported by The Tennessee Star, a bill sponsored by Representative Micah Van Huss (R-Jonesborough) as HB 0077 is scheduled to be heard in the House Public Health Subcommittee on Wednesday.
A less-than-conservative publication, The Atlantic, suggests that Democrats may have overplayed their hand on abortion, giving the pro-life movement an opportunity.
Specifically, The Atlantic discusses two recent events. First, in New York the signing of a bill providing the legal right to abort fetuses that could survive outside the womb was cheered and celebrated by lighting up the city’s Freedom Tower. Then, in Virginia, the state’s Governor, Ralph Northam, defended a state lawmaker’s bill by explaining that after a baby was delivered it would be kept comfortable, resuscitated, “if that’s what the other and family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.”
In stark contrast, pro-life advocates in Tennessee wanted to show their support of Van Huss’s Heartbeat Bill, so that legislators would hear a voice other than that of Planned Parenthood supporters who happened to have a scheduled Day On The Hill the day prior to the bill being heard in its first committee.
In addition to those who drove themselves, Williamson County Republican Party Chair, Debbie Deavers, arranged for a bus for virtually door-to-door transportation from a designated meet-up location in the southern part of Nashville to Capitol Hill during the morning rush hour.
A total of about 50 supporters, donning red “heartbeat” buttons given out by the representative, crammed into Van Huss’s office to start off their day of advocacy hearing his take on the bill.
Van Huss committed, “I will not amend this bill past the ban on abortion after a heartbeat.” Alluding to the legislation he carried last year that was changed to heartbeat reporting versus a heartbeat abortion ban, Van Huss said, “I’m not going to change it this time.”
“The bill will pass or die as a heartbeat abortion ban.”
Through a series of questions and answers, Van Huss shared several key points about his Heartbeat Bill.
The legislation defines a viable pregnancy instead of a viable fetus, which doesn’t appear to have ever been argued to the Supreme Court. As such, it is believed that the Heartbeat Bill is constitutionally sound, because the courts have never banned a viable pregnancy.
While Van Huss believes the bill to be constitutionally sound, “Whether it’s constitutionally sound nor not, someone’s going to challenge it. My intention is not to get to the Supreme Court, my intention is to save lives.”
However, Van Huss also believes if the case goes to the Supreme Court, “We definitely need to be in this fight.”
He went on to explain that the partial-birth abortion fight began in 1996 when the Republican U.S. Congress passed it and President Bill Clinton vetoed it. Over the next 11 years, 42 times states failed to pass a partial birth abortion ban through the courts, “and it cost a lot of money,” said Van Huss.
“But, what’s important, is that the 43rd time, the Supreme Court upheld Nebraska’s partial-birth abortion ban.” In that time, “babies were not able to be aborted while they were being born, and so that’s a great victory.”
Van Huss then answered “Absolutely,” to his own question of whether it’s a fight worth fighting, no matter the cost.
While he wouldn’t name names, Van Huss said there was just one of the 74 Republicans in the House who have said they weren’t voting for it.
“The excuse from Christians,” explaining what happened to the Heartbeat Bill last year, said Van Huss, “was it was too expensive, it was going to give money to Planned Parenthood and the court, and it’s too extreme.”
Van Huss was encouraged, saying that “the support that we lacked the last two years, it is nowhere.”
When asked if there is anything “really compelling” that advocates could share with a legislator, Van Huss responded with his own very strong conviction.
“This issue, I see it as black and white. Either you believe it’s a life or you don’t. I think that some people on the other side that don’t see it as a life, I don’t know that I’m going to be able to change their mind. And, so that’s hard for me to say, because it’s life. It’s simple for me that you shouldn’t be killing a life. And so it depends on which legislator you’re talking to, but I don’t know what their mindset is. If they don’t believe it’s a life, I don’t know what you can say to them.”
Van Huss asked the pro-life supporters for a favor, “As you’re looking for legislators today, single out two for a thank you, not a beat on the head.” He then specifically mentioned Matthew Hill (R-Jonesborough) and Bill Dunn (R-Knoxville), who have “both done a ton for the unborn over the last few years.”
Last year, Matthew Hill passed a bill that brought the viability down to 20 weeks. As a result, Van Huss said, “Matthew got mentioned in an article when the Knoxville clinic shut down six years ago or seven years ago, the Knoxville clinic actually said the reason we’re shutting down is because of Matthew Hill’s legislation, and I mean that’s awesome. That’s a badge of honor, so thank you Matthew Hill. And then Bill Dunn, he’s Speaker Pro Tem, he has a done a lot of work on saving babies. He’s been here for 20, 24 years. But thank Bill Dunn and thank Mathew Hill if you happen to see them, because they’ve been champions.”
Van Huss added that there are plenty of other representatives who have worked very hard on this, specifically naming Debra Moody (R-Covington).
As legislators, said Van Huss, “80 percent of the communication that we receive is negative. Whenever somebody’s unhappy is when they come talk to you, which is fine. That’s our job. And so, being thanked is not something that happens so think about that,” encouraging contact with Representatives Matthew Hill and Bill Dunn.
When Speaker Casada made his way to the office, Van Huss introduced him saying, “Governor Lee and Speaker Casada have had courage, and I was telling these folks some legislators need back up to be able to vote for life, unfortunately. But what you have done by coming out publicly and what Lt. Gov. McNally and Governor Lee have done is given cover and courage to legislators.”
As Van Huss was leaving a for committee meeting, Casada referenced a theory of Ronald Reagan as it relates to Van Huss, “Put good people in charge, and you leave them alone.”
Casada said he was proud to support Van Huss on the Heartbeat Bill, and repeated the theme, “Some things are worth fighting for, and this is one of them.”
Then, expressing appreciation and encouragement, Casada said, “You sent us up here to be your voice, but at the end of the day, the left is very effective at putting boots on the ground. You are countering that, and that is what we need more than anything. I salute you because you are the spark plug that will get this thing passed.”
Casada, in his straightforward manner, said, “Let’s go to the Supreme Court with this. I think we can win and stop this lunacy of killing children and especially what New York and Virginia is doing. That is the most heartless thing I’ve ever seen.”
As the advocates brought up the many ways abortion impacts women, Casada said, “When you deal with the mass media, they have a message. You and I say these things, but it’s not quoted.” Casada referred to the day of advocacy saying that it, as well as “talking to our neighbors and writing editorials, is so important.”
“Just continue to pound that this is protecting women. This is protecting unborn women. This is the point that we have to make.”
Shortly after, the group moved to Casada’s office, where he was joined by freshman and fellow Williamson County Republican House member, Brandon Ogles (R-Franklin).
Ogles, about the Heartbeat Bill, said “It’s a good bill. It’s got a lot of good support. There were some wording issues early that I think have been worked. So I think you’ll see any initial hesitation by some of the members, you’ll see a surge of support as far as the Heartbeat Bill goes.”
Also visible from outside the House, Ogles pointed out, “The general consensus on the hill is a lot of issues kind of seem to be leaning more towards the right. The ship seems to be righting itself, so be encouraged there. And that’s thanks to good leadership from our speaker. Glen’s doing a good job of aligning folks and rallying support and has a tremendously gifted staff of young people around him that are doing a lot of hard work and that’s very encouraging and very inspiring for the new members.”
Casada agreed with the point that recent pro-abortion events have been a motivator, “Politics is a pendulum and so when it goes our way, I included, tend to stay home and get fat and happy. Then we see New York and Virginia start killing children when they come out of the womb and it’s like ‘I gotta get back off the couch and get back to work.’ I think that’s what we’re seeing is the pendulum swinging back our way.”
He went on to say, “That’s the great thing about our country, every day folks like me can be part of a movement to change this country. And that’s what we’re doing. Hopefully what New York and Virginia have done is a wake-up call for just normal thinking people. ‘Wait a minute, a child’s just been born and I’m going to kill it? That ain’t right.’”
Ogles added, “The hope is that by seeing these big swings is that hopefully this will start an effect where, you know it’s my hope that the Supreme Court will revert that authority back to the states.” If that were to happen, “We’re in the Bible belt and we’re in a conservative state and hopefully Tennessee will be one of those states that chooses not to allow it.”
With dialogue and a goal to “intellectually convert,” Casada says that in this country we have to get away from the point where, “if you don’t agree with me, no matter what your position is, you’re evil.”
In terms of how conservative grassroots can be of service, Casada responded matter-of-factly, “We’ve got 99 members up here, and politicians are a few breed that they think a trickle is a flood. And so a few contacts to your representatives will either strengthen them or maybe convert or them. And, if at the end of the day, if we can’t agree, then that’s what elections are for. So, depending on where you live and who your Senator or your House member is, you encourage them, or you change their mind or you beat them in November. Whatever of the three it takes.”
The pro-life supporters went to their next scheduled appointment with Representative Andy Holt (R-Dresden), which, due to the size of the group, turned into a hallway meeting with the father of six home-schooled children delivering a brief but powerful message.
A bunch of the folks in the House here are pro-life and we’ve got them in the Senate. The biggest kick start that this has is somebody that, if I understand a lot of you all are from Williamson County, this guy – I don’t know if any of you have heard of him – his name is Bill Lee.
He was my pick early on.
I met with Bill Lee about 18 months prior to him winning, and I did the most foolish thing that anybody can do in politics. I met with him for a very short period of time, and at the end of our meeting I told him that I was going to pledge myself to him as a person that would not only support him but also endorse him.
And let me just tell you that each and every day that I’m up here, and when he does things like endorse the Heartbeat Bill, I pat myself on the back and say ‘Thank you, Lord, that you sent Bill Lee up here.’
I do want to specifically tell you all thank you. No joke. Listen, while y’all are up here today, just some real quick things.
Y’all are going to see people who are in the opposition to our position as it relates to life. And just let me go ahead and tell you, the first year that I was up here I thought it was my goal to embarrass those folks and to beat those folks down. I can tell you that was absolutely wrong.
Our job here is to show those folks that because of sin, they have a skewed view on life. As a Christian, which is the number one reason I’m pro-life, not because of the science although that validates it, not because of new modern technology which confirms it, but because of my faith, I realize that that child was – at conception – was a human life that God ordained and that child has a right to life.
That said, when you see these folks I don’t have anger toward them anymore. I actually have compassion and pray for those folks as I pass them in the hall. They’re lost, folks. The vast majority of them, that’s what’s wrong.
The biggest divide in the capitol is not Republicans versus Democrats. It’s not rural versus urban. But, it’s those that are lost and those that are saved. And, so that said, I appreciate you all being here. It helps.
Holt concluded, “I do love those folks that I disagree with so much that I’m willing to tell them that they’re wrong on issues. This is an issue that, again, is absolutely undeniable at this point, between the science and the technology we are winning. I’m 37 years old, and I can tell you the generation that I’m a part of is way more pro life than their moms and dads. And we’re going to continue on that trajectory. Appreciate you all being here today. Thank you all so much.”
The bill will be heard by members of the Public Health Subcommittee, Representatives Vincent Dixie (D-Nashville), Matthew Hill (R-Jonesborough), Larry Miller (D-Memphis), Bryan Terry (R-Murfreesboro), Sam Whitson (R-Franklin) as well as Chairman Jerry Sexton (R-Bean Station) and the sponsor himself on Wednesday, February 20 at 2 p.m.
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Laura Baigert is a senior reporter at The Tennessee Star.