Tennessee lawmakers are considering a new bill that would protect unborn babies from abortion as soon as their hearts begin beating.
The bill “requires fetal heartbeat testing prior to an abortion and prohibits abortions from the point a fetal heartbeat is detected except in certain medical emergencies.” It requires that women be offered the opportunity to view or hear her unborn baby’s heartbeat.
It also allows women to sue the abortionist if she does not receive the required information or receives false information.
Many years ago, scientific research established that an unborn baby’s heart starts beating around 21 days after conception – usually before the woman knows she is pregnant. Many sources on fetal development report this, though others link to evidence that the heartbeat begins at about 18 days. Late last year, researchers at the University of Oxford found evidence that an unborn baby’s heart may begin beating even earlier – by 16 days after conception, according to the Daily Mail.
Only recently have Tennessee lawmakers been able to introduce new measures to protect life and restrict abortion. In 2000, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled 4-1 that the state constitution allows unlimited abortion. The ruling prohibited common-sense measures like informed consent, waiting periods, and legislation to prevent coerced abortion from passing through the Tennessee legislature.
However, on November 4, 2014, Tennessee voters approved Amendment 1, which returns authority for abortion regulation to the people of Tennessee and their state legislators.
If passed, the heartbeat bill would outlaw almost all abortions in Tennessee. However, the bill likely would not withstand a court challenge.
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According to the local news:
This is the second time Van Huss has filed a “heartbeat bill.” Last year, a similar piece of legislation failed following legal opinion by Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery. Slatery stated the bill was likely to be challenged in federal courts given similar bills have been blocked.
Such bills have been met with skepticism in the past, even by many pro-life groups and advocates. Because of the current make-up of the U.S. Supreme Court and lower courts, a bill to end abortions or prohibit them after a detectable heartbeat likely would not survive a court challenge at this point.
North Dakota and Arkansas passed heartbeat bills several years ago, but federal courts struck down both laws. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals said the following about the bills: “Because there is no genuine dispute that (North Dakota’s law) generally prohibits abortions before viability — as the Supreme Court has defined that concept — and because we are bound by Supreme Court precedent holding that states may not prohibit pre-viability abortions, we must affirm the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the plaintiffs.”
The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of the cases in 2016.