Major pro-life legislation was approved by the Tennessee Legislature in Friday’s early morning hours just before legislators wrapped up their year.
Passage — and the end of the session — came as a surprise because Senate leaders had said they would not take the abortion measure up in this condensed year, according to a story by The Tennessee Journal: On the Hill. The publication also reported the Senate did this to persuade the House to back off of making changes to the budget proposal the Senate had approved.
The legislation includes a ban on abortions when a fetal heartbeat is detected, and will go to Gov. Bill Lee to sign, the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus said in a statement.
The Senate approved the bill on a 23-5 vote. Senate Bill 2196, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson (R-Franklin), Sen. Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville) and Sen. Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol), is part of Lee’s legislative priorities for the 2020 session.
“This legislation defends the right of our most vulnerable citizens, the unborn,” said Johnson.”
Gresham said, “This comprehensive, life-affirming legislation prohibits abortion once a heartbeat has been detected.
Last summer, the Senate Judiciary Committee studied ways to implement pro-life legislation that will meet court scrutiny.
Lundberg said, “What we have offered is the nation’s strongest opportunity to protect the life of the unborn.”
Shortly after the Tennessee State Senate passed the bill, the Tennessee House of Representatives passed the same bill by a 70-20 vote. Later on Friday, Gov. Bill Lee said he would sign the bill passed by both houses into law.
The legislation includes a layered structure that prohibits abortion after the unborn child reaches certain gestational age milestones. A provision bans abortion at 11 gestational age milestones ranging from 6 weeks to 24 weeks, with severability clauses for each step of the ladder. It is modeled after a Missouri law to protect against legal challenges. A medical emergency exception is provided, under the bill, if certain requirements are met.
The bill calls for mothers to undergo an ultrasound prior to an abortion where the gestational age and the fetal heartbeat will be determined. The proposal also prohibits discriminatory abortion based on the unborn child’s race, sex, or Down syndrome diagnosis.
The legislation eliminates the requirement that the Department of Children’s Services provide court advocates and other information about judicial procedures to minors who are considering an abortion.
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Jason M. Reynolds has more than 20 years’ experience as a journalist at outlets of all sizes.