NASHVILLE, Tennessee – The majority of State House members voted for a pro-life Heartbeat Bill that bans abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected, although the bill’s passage wasn’t without protests from Planned Parenthood and opposition by House Democrats.
As reported by The Tennessee Star, the Heartbeat Bill, sponsored by Representative Micah Van Huss (R-Jonesborough) as HB 0077 passed in the House on Thursday by a vote of 65 Ayes, 21 Nays and 7 Present Not Voting.
But, before the bill was presented and voted on, legislators were met with Planned Parenthood protesters in the rotunda of the Capitol outside the House chambers. Pro-life supporters were overwhelmed by pro-abortion protesters in both numbers and volume.
Pro-abortionists, organized by Tennessee Advocates for Planned Parenthood’s Executive Director Francie Hunt and Community Organizer Elizabeth Thomas as a “Healthcare not Hangers” event, numbered about two dozen. All presented hand-written signs with disturbing messages describing supposed methods a woman would take if she were denied the right to a legal abortion.
One pro-life supporter, Brenda Catanach, pointed out to The Star that the signs represented actions that are all self-inflicted by a woman’s own choice and not imposed upon her against her will.
In addition to the hand-held signs, as Representatives arrived for their 9 a.m. floor session, they were greeted to shouted chants of either “Pro-life, it’s a lie; they don’t care if women die,” even though about half of all babies that would be aborted are girls, or “Not the church, not the state, women must decide their fate.”
Inside the chambers, when HB0077 came up on the agenda, Van Huss started his presentation of the bill with a story that helps convey his conviction for carrying the Heartbeat Bill.
My grandmother’s first husband was Stokes Taylor. On December 21, 1944, his squad was given orders to embed on a hilltop and to defend the road entrance to Truce Points, Belgium. The Germans were coming. That afternoon, his men were assaulted by a massive German force. He told his squad mates to withdraw into the woods while he held the Germans off. Those men tell the story that as they withdrew into the woods, they looked back to see Stokes Taylor firing his Browning machine gun, take a hit and fall. The last thing they saw as the trees faded in was Stokes Taylor stand back up and continue firing at the Germans.
When our soldiers needed us, Tennessee sent Stokes Taylor.
When Texas needed us, Tennessee sent Davy Crockett.
When America needed us, Tennessee sent Jack Blevins to Iraq.
The unborn need us.
We are Tennesseans. If everyone else does what’s wrong, we do what’s right.
We are Tennesseans. If everyone else runs away, we run to the fight.
We are Tennesseans. If every other state murders their most innocent, we protect them.
We are Tennesseans. The Volunteer State. Even if it means sacrificing everything to preserve what is good about America.
We are the state of Stokes Taylor, Davy Crockett and Jack Blevins.
Colleagues, we cannot continue to allow the slaughter of the unborn while we hope for better circumstances, and we should not cede this responsibility to the next generation years down the road. Put Tennessee in the fight for our unborn.
Today, God has given all of us an opportunity to take a stand for the unborn. I’m honored that he has extended this opportunity to me. I’m asking you today to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.
As Tennesseans, take a stand for our unborn.
Van Huss’s presentation of the bill was met with applause from the floor and nearly filled galleries above.
Five amendments were proposed for the bill, the first coming from Representative and House Health Committee Chairman Brian Terry (R-Murfreesboro). Terry asked that his Amendment #1 be rolled behind Amendment #5.
Amendment #2 was sponsored by long-time Representative and Speaker Pro Tem Bill Dunn (R-Knoxville), who started his introduction by saying, “This is an issue that’s extremely important to me. It’s the reason I got into politics many years ago, and I fought for this cause when we didn’t have a majority.”
Dunn went on to explain that he had some concerns about the bill, the main issue being the way the severability clause is written, “the whole bill goes away if any part of it is held invalid.”
Dunn said of his amendment, “working with legal and Tennessee Right to Life has a constitutional attorney – which is a good person to turn to when you deal with these – and we’ve come up with language to deal with just about every circumstance so we don’t inadvertently remove pro-life language from this.”
Just two days prior WGNS News Radio reported that Tennessee Right to Life, the employer of Representative Dunn’s wife Stacy, issued a release saying the organization could not support the Heartbeat Bill.
Before Dunn asked that his amendment be rolled behind Amendment #5, he encouraged support of HB 1029 by Representative and Chair Susan Lynn (R-Mt. Juliet), the “Human Life Protection Act,” which would bind future legislators to ban abortions in Tennessee upon the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
Subsequently, Amendment #3 by Representative Matthew Hill (R-Jonesborough) and Amendment #4 by Terry were withdrawn.
Before moving on to the next Amendment, Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin) called for a recess and said he would like “the two chairmen and two leaders up here with me.”
After returning from the recess, the proceedings moved on to Amendment #5, also by Matthew Hill. In his presentation of the Amendment, Hill said it makes no substantive change to restrictions on abortions recommended by the Health Committee, but clarifies that if the new restrictions were to be challenged in court the current abortion restriction already in code would remain in effect, thereby seeming to address the primary concern expressed by Representative Dunn.
Hill continued that the Amendment language had been vetted by the State Attorney General’s office, the Solicitor General, and the chief legal counsel of the House of Representatives.
As someone who has been here a few years and has worked beside Speaker Pro Tem (Dunn) and passed meaningful pro-life legislation, it is imperative we pass this amendment.
We do not know if this legislation will be challenged in court. I know, in speaking with the sponsor, that is not the intent of this legislation. The intent of this legislation, as has been stated many times is to do one thing. It sounds simple but it’s actually quite profound, ladies and gentlemen, and this is to save lives.”
I was, Mr. Speaker, quite befuddled when we went through the committee process and there seemed to be a need to discuss, debate and perhaps even feign confusion as to what the purpose of this legislation was.
There were individuals and interest groups that make money off of the killing of unborn children who were saying that this legislation did not do what it said it does.”
We have the responsibility as the representative of the district of our citizens to ensure that life – innocent life – is protected at all its stages. And for our new members, when you have two seconds of free time check out green books, we have laws to protect elderly, protect and aid our veterans and, thanks to tireless work of the Speaker Pro Tem and the Speaker, protect innocent life to a point.
It is common sense, that when you hear that heartbeat that is a life. We, as a state and as a society, cannot sanction the taking of one more innocent life. Not one more.
And so I would humbly ask for adoption of Amendment #5 and would ask that we all, regardless of political party, regardless of political ideology, regardless of what part of the state we come from, I would humbly ask that we can all, on this issue of life and protecting innocent life, that we can all as one stand together and stand UP for that innocent life.
Upon his motion to adopt his Amendment #5, Hill’s presentation was responded to with applause.
Bill sponsor Van Huss did not object to Hill’s Amendment, viewing it as “friendly” and adding support.
The first to make comments on the Amendment was freshman legislator Representative Esther Helton (R-East Ridge). Helton relayed a very personal story, “Some of my colleagues may not know that this legislation hit close to home for me.”
At 17 when I was a high school senior, I found out I was pregnant with my son, Lee. And, I chose life.
After the birth of my son, I attended vocational school and became a nurse to support my young family.
Through many years of hard work and dedication, I now find myself privileged enough to be sitting in this chamber.
I point this out because many young women believe that their lives are over when they become a mother at a young age. This could not be further from the truth.
The gift of life is the most precious gift and we seem to have forgotten that.
I am so thankful for the joy and blessings Lee has given me since he was born and I hope we can show the women of Tennessee how wonderful motherhood can be even when they are so uncertain.
I was not endorsed by a pro-life group, but I don’t need to be to support this legislation because I know it’s the right thing to do.
Next to be recognized by Speaker Casada was Representative London Lamar (D-Memphis), who The Star initially reported on for calling Tennesseans racists and uneducated and then later for campaign reporting violations for which she was granted leniency from the state’s Registry of Election Finance.
Lamar then delivered her comments, reading from something in her hand, “I would like to speak out about this issue, because this is very, very personal to me. I think I’m the only woman in this House that can still have children.”
We need to affirm a woman’s constitutional right to make her own decisions about abortion. Abortion restrictions cease control a woman’s reproductive freedom and oppress women in their communities.
Access to abortion cannot be separated from human rights.
This bill seeks to ban abortion as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. Many women do not even know they are pregnant by that time. This bill endangers women’s health and lives by interfering with a doctor’s ability to treat a pregnant patient. Not every woman has the capacity to be a mother and to deny her the right to an abortion and to potentially put her physical, mental and emotional health at risk is not pro-life, that’s pro-birth.
In 2014, the research found that 75 percent of abortion patients are poor or low income, 62% are religiously affiliated and 59% already had a kid. Women who are without abortion services are more likely to experience poverty, unemployment, low-wage jobs and health risks.
This pro-birth agenda by HB77 supporters is inhumane and irresponsible.
First, we need to do more to protect women’s access to health care and health care services, access to the education system, access to housing and food and equity in the workplace before we can force a woman to have a child. This pro-life movement is not concerned about the well-being of the woman before, during or after the pregnancy, but is simply obsessed with us having babies.
Secondly, rape and incest are just inhumane. No woman, including myself, should have to carry a rapist’s baby. For rapists with pro-life fantasies, we would empower these individuals and make women carry their injustices and this provides protection for victims of sex trafficking who are openly advocate on behalf.
Also, this bill is unconstitutional and fiscally irresponsible. For us who brags about being fiscally conservative, this bill will drag us into a state fight in the courts will cost our taxpayers tons and tons of money.
Most importantly, most of you all are men. You cannot go through that process until a woman’s voice should not be decided about when she needs to have a kid by many of those who cannot even have them.
So, again, finally if we truly believe in limited government then let’s stay out of the lives of women, their doctors and their families.
Lamar concluded on the personal impact to her and apparently referring to abortion as a privilege, “Again, this issue affects me personally, and I have not decided to start my family, but I would hate if my colleagues sitting in this room take that privilege away from me.”
When cheering erupted in response to Representative Lamar’s comments from the gallery where the Planned Parenthood supporters were sitting, Speaker Casada gaveled, saying “Ladies and gentlemen in the gallery, I need order. Please respect this institution.”
As is customary, the bill sponsor was allowed to respond. Representative Van Huss first started, “I want to address the constitutionality. Legal abortion was illegal until the Supreme Court made it constitutional.”
Quoting from the constitution, ‘We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, and to secure the blessings liberty to ourselves and our prosterity …’ The Cambridge definition of prosterity is the people who will exist in the future.
Thirteen years earlier, those same founders said in our Declaration of Independence that “Men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are the pursuit of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
The 1973 Supreme Court tore up our Constitution and threw it out the window when they denied the unborn their rights. Our unborn are people.
Yesterday was the 162nd anniversary of the Dred Scott case in which the Supreme Court ruled 7 to 2 that slaves could not be American citizens.
Over 230 times in our nation’s history, the Supreme Court has overturned its own rulings. Should this legislation be challenged, it is absolutely a fight worth fighting.
As far as the physical, emotional and mental health of women that you had mentioned, I’ve got some statistics right here from the British Journal of Psychiatry from a 2011 study.
Women who have abortions are 155 percent more likely to commit suicide. Women who have abortions are 81 percent more likely to experience mental health struggles. Women who have abortions are 110 percent more likely to abuse alcohol, 220 percent more likely to abuse marijuana, 37 percent more likely to be depressed, 34 percent more likely to develop an anxiety disorder.
Van Huss then went on to reference a 2016 University of California San Francisco study, raising his eyebrows perhaps recognizing what is not exactly a conservative bastion, which he said has similar results.
“Planned Parenthood quoted a 2011 survey by the Academy of Royal Colleges which, again, had the same results.”
“So when you want to talk about the physical, emotional and mental health of a woman, I would point out that having an abortion has a much worse effect.”
Representative Mary Littleton (R-Dickson), after talking about hearing her own child’s heartbeat for the first time, said she would support the bill.
Also expressing support was Representative Terri Lynn Weaver (R-Lancaster), alluding to emergency responders who experience joy at the presence of a heartbeat because it gives an indication there is life.
As a pro-life advocate, Representative Weaver went on to say that “We must fight until the narrative is changed, until this culture truly echoes our country’s central tenants of life, liberty and the opportunity for the pursuit of happiness.”
House Bill 77 restores that constitutional protection for the innocent. That’s who we’re talking about. The innocent. They have no voice. They were given life by our Creator. They were put in a place of safety, inside a mother’s womb. And we must do all we can to keep that heartbeat strong and to keep it alive.
Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio and Texas, and, by golly, Tennessee will join the ranks for those states who believe in the innocent and the voice of the innocent and to keep that heartbeat strong.
So, this is the right thing to do, guys.
Fight for the unborn until the taking of innocent life –abortion – is just unthinkable.
Freshman legislator Representative Bob Freeman (D-Nashville) wanted to echo his colleague Representative Lamar, saying, “I have great issue with a bunch of men in this room telling women across our state what they can do with their bodies. I urge all of you to think really hard about that before you vote today.”
Representative Lynn, who is sponsoring her own pro-life legislation also rose in support of the Heartbeat Bill. As a grandmother of six, she said hearing the heartbeats of those children was the happiest day of their lives.
And, with emotion, Lynn added, “And I’m sorry that there are times when someone finds out that they’re pregnant and it is a scary time for them but it’s also a time that they might not keep that secret but their family will envelop them, their community will envelop them, their church will wrap their arms around them and we pro-life legislators we do all we do to pass laws so that we can wrap our arms around the woman who has an unplanned and uncertain pregnancy. That’s what we do.”
“We want these babies to be born because we know that every life is precious and there’s a constitutional right to LIFE. There’s a constitutional right to life, born or unborn. So, please, I urge you to please vote for this legislation today.”
Democratic Caucus Leader Representative Karen Camper (D-Memphis) rose in opposition to the bill, citing one reason as the lack of compassion for rape and incest, which she said is unimaginable to her.
Representative Camper also expressed concern that criminalize doctors and that would have health care professionals being in fear of treating their patients. That fear, Representative Camper added, might cause a delay in treatment and add a layer of stress to doctors when there are already issues of getting doctors in rural areas and a shortage of doctors.
Representative Debra Moody (R-Covington) spoke of her experience as a board member of a pregnancy center in west Tennessee that provides care for a woman, no matter what her choice has been. A woman having post-abortion bleeding and could not get help from the provider was helped by the pregnancy center by taking them to the emergency room, relayed Representative Moody.
There are a variety of resources available, explained Representative Moody, adding “We try to meet their needs where they’re at.”
From a doctor, Moody heard that when he has a woman who is pregnant, he makes two files – one for the woman and one for the baby.
Concluding, Representative Moody offered, “I would also like to say, abortion is not health care.”
More vocal in the House Health Committee, Representative Vincent Dixie (D-Nashville) after expressing appreciation for giving him time to talk, said briefly, “This is emotional for me. We talked about this for a while in committee meetings and all I can do is ask you to look at your hearts. We’re all hear fighting for what we believe in. Think about what it is that drove you to be here and what’s in the best interest, not of Tennesseans, but women as well.”
Former Tennessee Republican Party Chair and freshman legislator Representative Robin Smith (R-Hixson), said that as a registered nurse she was very blessed to practice in a very high intensity level cardiac medicine unit for transplants where not everybody got their heart and many died. Alluding to emergency responders as Chairlady Weaver had done and the first action being checking for a heartbeat, Representative Smith there were countless times she leaned over a patient to resuscitate a beating heart, even cracking ribs.
On a higher level, Representative Smith said, “In a culture, we are defined by what we celebrate.”
She then added that she was honored to stand with the Speaker and sponsor in supporting life “based on science, based on the fact that we’re created in the image of God, and the responsibility that, over the course of history, there have been other healthcare procedures that have been prohibited and banned, such as lobotomies that at one time were practiced in a very traditional way.”
Representative Smith concluded, “It’s time for Tennesseans to stand to celebrate life.”
Next to be recognized was House Majority Leader William Lamberth (R-Cottontown), who called for the previous question on Amendment #5.
That prompted objections and hand raising by Democrats
Speaker Casada asked the House Parliamentarian to explain the parliamentary procedure that the House was in, which was stated as all debate being cut off, with the exception of the sponsor of the Amendment who has the right to close.
Voting on the call for the question requires a two-thirds majority, which passed with a vote of 66 Ayes to 25 Nays.
Representative Matthew Hill then delivered the close on his Amendment #5, first expressing his appreciation for the Speaker allowing debate and discussion from both sides of the aisle.
In response to a question someone asked Representative Hill not on the microphone, he took the opportunity to explain how the Heartbeat Bill is different from what has passed previously.
Representative Hill explained, “Because of the science and the data that was available to us at that time, we have passed a ban at 20 weeks. From that time, there has been additional science, additional data, additional medical information that has been presented to this chamber that shows that science and medicine is able to detect life at an even earlier stage. And when that is made aware, I feel we have an obligation to promote that culture of life that Chairlady Smith talked about.
It is so imperative, it is so important and, as stated earlier, I truly do believe that at the end of the day this is a common sense piece of legislation. Because, ladies and gentlemen, I know that no one on this House floor, no one that represents the people of Tennessee in this chamber is in favor of killing an unborn baby. Nobody’s in favor of that and that’s why
I feel confident that this Amendment, this legislation will pass.
Representative Hill expressed his hope and belief that the legislation can pass and should in a very bipartisan manner, “Because at the end of the day, that little baby inside its mommy’s tummy is not a Republican or Democrat, it’s not a liberal or conservative, it’s a baby. It’s a little human life and I think we can all come together as Republicans and Democrats and honor and cherish that life and we can do that together.”
“So let’s do that together, ladies and gentlemen, let’s stand for life together. I hope everyone will vote in favor of Amendment 5 for life.”
Amendment #5 was voted on and passed with a vote of 70 Ayes, 22 Nays and 1 Present Not Voting.
Once again, Leader Lamberth was recognized by Speaker Casada who called for the previous question on the bill as amended with Amendment #5.
The motion was responded to by even louder objections by Democrats, some of whom who had been working on a strategy while waiting for Representative Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville) to be recognized by the Speaker.
The call for the question, which was a procedural vote to proceed to voting on the bill as amended, again requiring a two-thirds majority to proceed, passed by a vote of 66 Ayes, 27 Nays.
Before taking the final vote on the bill as amended with Amendment #5, Representative Van Huss delivered short closing remarks, expressing his appreciation, not only to his colleagues, “But the folks across, not only this state, but this nation who have prayed for our unborn, who have called for and worked for our unborn.”
This process has been a humbling experience and I am humbled by the support of the people who believe in life. So, thank you for this opportunity. I will thank God for this opportunity as well to be able to take a stand.”
The bill as amended, requiring just a simple majority vote, passed with 65 Ayes, 21 Nays and 7 Present Not Voting.
The only Nay votes came from Democrats, although two Democrats, Representative John DeBerry (Memphis) and John Mark Windle (Livingston) voted Aye.
The only Present Not Voting were Republicans.
The Senate version of the bill, SB 1236, will need to proceed through the State Senate, beginning with the Senate Judiciary Committee. While 11 Senators have signed on to the bill, including its main sponsor Senate Mark Pody (R-Lebanon), just four of the nine on the Senate Judiciary Committee are co-sponsors.
The video of the House floor session on House Bill HB 0077 can be viewed here and clicking on the bill number.
Senate Bill SB 1236 can be followed here.
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Laura Baigert is a senior reporter at The Tennessee Star.