According to a bill passed Thursday by the Tennessee General Assembly, the unborn are people at the moment of conception. This was accomplished through changes to civil law, by extending wrongful death liability for the unborn all the way to conception. In effect, this legislation confers personhood the moment an egg is fertilized.
The legal change in the civil definition of personhood wasn’t presented in the caption text. It was mentioned once in a single sentence under the bill’s summary. Additionally, the name given to the bill by the sponsors – the “Prenatal Life and Liberty Act” – wasn’t mentioned anywhere in the bill’s language, caption text, or summary.
Under current Tennessee law, someone who murders a woman and her unborn child may be charged with double homicide. In civil court, however, an individual may only be sued for the woman’s death – not an unborn child preceding viability outside the womb. This bill would allow the civil definition of human victims to mirror the definition of a human being in criminal law.
The bill also prevents any child or parent from filing civil causes of action against doctors for not disclosing certain conditions that may have influenced an abortion decision. Those actions are legally referred to as “wrongful life” and “wrongful birth,” respectively.
State Senator Mike Bell (R-Riceville), the sponsor on the act, explained during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that wrongful birth and life claims are common law concepts – not enshrined in Tennessee Code. Since they aren’t in state law, they’re up to judicial interpretation.
“This bill shall expressly prohibit these claims from being brought, and thus makes a public policy statement that regardless of medical condition, abortion is never a preferable state to life and should never be asserted that way in a legal claim,” said Bell.
The House sponsor was State Representative Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby). Faison presented similar arguments throughout hearings in committee and on the House floor.
The Prenatal Life and Liberty Act passed on third and final consideration without discussion in both the House and Senate. The House passed it 69 to 20; the Senate passed it 25 to 6. Only one House Democrat voted for the bill: State Representative John Mark Windle (D-Livingston). All Senate Democrats voted against the bill.
The act now heads to the governor for final approval.
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