In a letter addressed to The Honorable Governor Bill Lee, more than 150 self-proclaimed people of faith said they oppose all attempts to criminalize and restrict abortion access.
While the correspondence is not dated, it appears by the mention of “HB77 and SB1236” in the letter, that the legislature’s consideration of the Heartbeat Bill was the impetus for the letter.
The Heartbeat Bill, HB0077 and SB1236, sponsored by Representative Micah Van Huss (R-Jonesborough) and Senator Mark Pody (R-Lebanon), would ban abortion when a fetal heartbeat is detected by ultrasound, usually at about six weeks after conception.
HB0077 passed the state House on March 7 by a vote of 65 Ayes, 21 Nays and 7 Present Not Voting. SB1236 failed to advance in the Senate, when it was deferred to Summer Study by the Judiciary Committee on April 9.
As reported by The Tennessee Star, Senate bill sponsor, Mark Pody has filed a request invoking Senate Rule 63 for the bill to be recalled so that it may be reconsidered.
The faith leaders’ letter to Governor Lee was published on April 17 by LifeNews.com, an independent news agency devoted to reporting news that affects the pro-life community, according to its website.
Signers of the letter, which filled more than five pages, included self-identified members of numerous Christian denominations – Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, United Church of Christ, Unitarian Universalist, Disciples of Christ, African Methodist Episcopal, Episcopal, Catholic, Seventh-day Adventist, and Nazarene – as well as Jewish, Buddhist and Muslim leaders.
Though the vast majority of the signers identified themselves as Christian, the letter makes no mention of life beginning at conception and makes repeated references to pregnant “people.” Rather than recognizing the fetus as one of God’s creations, and a separate, whole human being, the “people of deep faith commitments” claim that “these bills take away the bodily autonomy” of pregnant people.
One of the fundamental points of all religious beliefs is that there is a moral code of behavior that distinguishes right from wrong. Yet the letter implies that morals are situational.
Specifically referencing the proposed Heartbeat Bill, the letter states, “Bills like these assume that people who find themselves pregnant are unable to make complex decisions in line with their own morals and informed by their lived reality.”
The letter goes on to say two more times that people should be supported and trusted in making moral decisions about pregnancy.
The opposition to Tennessee’s Heartbeat Bill during the 2019 legislative session has come from unlikely sources.
Tennessee’s Right To Life organization has opposed the bill, while, in stark contrast, Ohio Right To Life supported and celebrated the signing of the bill by Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, as The Star reported.
And, usually one of the most reliable and outspoken opponents of abortion, the Catholic Church also opposed the Heartbeat Bill.
According to Catholic Answers, the Catholic Church has always condemned abortion as a grave evil.
The lex talionis or “law of retribution” of just punishment for an injury such as an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth and a life for a life applies to a pregnant woman. The law of Moses called for strict penalties for injuring a woman “so that her child comes out,” described by Catholic Answers as “aborted babies must have justice, too.”
“Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Ps. 51:5, NIV), as David said, alluding to the soul that is marred by original sin. Since sinfulness is a spiritual rather than physical condition, David must have had a spiritual nature from the time of conception, explains Catholic Answers.
Yet, a joint statement was issued by the Bishops of the Diocese of Knoxville, Nashville and Memphis in which the Bishops said they wholeheartedly support the intention of the Heartbeat Bill, but believe it would not be prudent to support the legislation. The Bishops also offered their legal opinion on the outcome of the Heartbeat Bill after being signed into law, “knowing the certainty of its overturning when challenged.”
“The so-called Christians leaders who have signed this letter are certainly not adhering to Biblical principles or the teachings of Jesus Christ. They are pursuing their personal preferences rather than promoting the will of God and they are incredibly deceptive and dangerous,” said Steve Gill, Tennessee Star political editor.
“From a political standpoint their impact will be minimal, though. Most legislators see them for what they are. The more deceptive and dangerous, certainly to unborn children, are the handful of Catholic Bishops and Tennessee Right to Life who are actually having an impact on the debate and who are effectively protecting the murder of unborn children in Tennessee. Sadly, some legislators are listening to and hiding behind them to block passage of the Heartbeat Bill.”
The ‘faith leaders” letter addressed to Governor Bill Lee can be read here.
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Laura Baigert is a senior reporter at The Tennessee Star.
Photo “Rev. Dr. Mary Louise McCullough (Left)” by Rev. Dr. Mary Louise McCullough. Photo “Reverend Jennifer Bailey (Right)” by Faith Works Matter. Background Photo “Planned Parenthood” by Fibonacci Blue. CC BY 2.0.