Senate Approves Legislation Banning Abortion When A Fetal Heartbeat Is Detected

Friday, June 19, 2020

Legislation, which includes a prohibition on abortions where a fetal heartbeat exists, was approved by a vote of 23 to 5 Friday by the Tennessee Senate.  Senate Bill 2196, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson (R-Franklin), Senator Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville), and Senator Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol), is part of Governor Bill Lee’s legislative priorities for the 2020 session.

“This legislation defends the right of our most vulnerable citizens, the unborn,” said Leader Johnson.  “I am proudly pro-life and have been a long-time opponent of abortion.  I appreciate Governor Lee championing this historic legislation and believe we have a strong bill that will withstand a constitutional challenge.”   

“Tennessee is a state that values life,” said Senator Gresham.  “This comprehensive, life-affirming legislation prohibits abortion once a heartbeat has been detected.  I am very pleased it has been passed to protect those who are unable to speak for themselves.  I also appreciate the work done by our Senate Judiciary Committee in helping get the bill in the best shape possible to move forward.”

Last summer, the Senate Judiciary Committee studied ways to implement pro-life legislation that will meet court scrutiny.

“What we have offered is the nation’s strongest opportunity to protect the life of the unborn,” added Senator Lundberg, who is vice-chairman of the committee.

The legislation includes a layered structure that prohibits abortion after the unborn child reaches certain gestational age milestones.  The “ladder” 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.

“This bill’s multi-provision approach significantly enhances our state’s pro-life laws, while testing the limits of current court precedents,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Mike Bell.  “This is the most comprehensive legislation considered by any state to protect unborn children.”

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. 

As amended, the legislation also requires abortion facilities to display signage informing women that a chemical abortion may be reversed following the first dose of a two-pill protocol.  It requires a physician to provide the same information during informed consent, 48 hours prior to the abortion procedure.

In addition, 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.    

The legislation now goes to Governor Bill Lee for his signature.

Planned Parenthood released the following statement:

"In an egregious move, the Tennessee legislature, in the dead of night and using police force to keep the public out of the Capitol building, passed a sweeping abortion ban. The bill, one of the most restrictive abortion bills in the country, bans abortion at nearly every stage of pregnancy, including before most people even know they’re pregnant. The bill also includes more medically unnecessary abortion restrictions and anti-science measures like forcing doctors to give patients the misinformation that they can reverse their abortion. It also bans abortion if the reason for the abortion is gender, race, or potential fetal diagnosis. Similar bans throughout the country have been struck down as unconstitutional.

"Just last week, the Iowa legislature pulled a similar move — waiting until the wee hours of the night to pass a harmful bill against abortion access. It’s becoming the new shameful playbook for anti-abortion politicians who are willfully ignoring police violence and COVID-19, both public health crises disproportionately killing Black people. Following suit, Tennessee politicians have now passed a deeply racist and discriminatory bill which preys upon inaccurate and offensive stereotypes of communities of color, including Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, in order to ban abortion.

"Furthermore, this bill will do nothing to address actual discrimination against women and girls, and instead would open the door to interfere with doctor-patient relationships, open and honest doctor-patient conversations, and a patient’s right to make private medical decisions.  

"Each and every one of these bans are part of a coordinated strategy to overturn Roe v. Wade and ban abortion outright."

Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president and CEO, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said, “It is a disgrace that in the face of a true public health crisis, Tennessee politicians wasted their time with this last-minute move to attack abortion access before closing up shop this session. We know that the goal of the politicians behind this bill is simple: a total ban on safe, legal abortion. Politicians know that this bill is blatantly unconstitutional. And they don’t care. Amidst protests against police violence and fear around COVID-19, politicians are doubling down — pushing racist stereotypes and ignoring public health to ban abortion. But we won’t let them. We’re going to do everything in our power to fight back and stand up for reproductive freedom.”

Ashley Coffield, president and CEO, Planned Parenthood Tennessee and North Mississippi, said, “What happened tonight flies in the face of democracy. In the dead of night, Tenessee politicians hellbent on chipping away at abortion access blocked citizens from entering the state Capitol while they used this draconian abortion ban to pass the state budget. While Tennesseans are concerned about their health and safety during a pandemic, politicians used women’s lives as a bargaining chip to push their political agenda. This comes after weeks of Senate leadership making public statements that they would not take up this bill.

“Governor Lee already failed at trying to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic by banning abortion through an executive order, and now he is trying to use every restriction he can think of to strip patients of their reproductive rights. Tennessee is already grappling with a botched response by Gov. Lee to the pandemic, and the deep racial divide in the state that’s finally getting the attention it deserves. We’ll continue fighting these egregious attacks on our patients’ rights — no matter what.”

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