Tennessee Bill Would Ban Abortions After Unborn Baby’s Heartbeat Begins

State   |   Micaiah Bilger   |   Jan 24, 2019   |   3:47PM   |   Nashville, Tennessee

Tennessee lawmakers joined a growing number of state legislatures Wednesday that are considering bills to protect unborn babies from abortion once they have a detectable heartbeat.

Sponsored by state Rep. Micah Van Huss, state House Bill 77 would prohibit abortions once an unborn baby’s heartbeat is detectable in Tennessee, according to the Nashville Scene. Exceptions would be allowed for medical emergencies.

If enacted, it would ban almost all abortions in the state. An unborn baby’s heartbeat is detectable at about six weeks of pregnancy, though research suggests a baby’s heartbeat may begin as early as 18 days after conception.

“One of our primary responsibilities as government is to keep our citizens safe. And the killing of our citizens need to stop,” Van Huss told WPLN. “So I’m about small government, but I believe the government needs to protect life.”

This is the third year Van Huss has introduced the bill. Some pro-lifers hope that the new conservative U.S. Supreme Court would uphold an abortion ban, while others remain skeptical, arguing that the legislation would be rejected by the courts and taxpayers would be forced to pay pro-abortion groups’ legal fees.

Nashville Scene reports more:

In 2017, Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery said an earlier Van Huss effort to ban abortions after fetal heartbeats are detected was constitutionally suspect. Van Huss admits that his bill, if passed, “probably will” be challenged in court, but he is hopeful that the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which he calls the country’s most conservative and which hears federal appeals from Tennessee, would uphold the law.

Plus, he says, tying activists up in a prolonged, expensive legal battle could have secondary benefits.

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“Every day that an abortion provider spends in court, that’s a baby she’s not killing, he’s not killing, in a hospital, so I’ve got no problem getting in the fight,” he says.

Pro-abortion House Democrats already are preparing for a fight. Nashville Public Radio reports state Rep. Gloria Johnson slammed the bill this week, saying it would damage women’s equality.

“If you don’t believe that a woman has complete control over her own health, you don’t believe that women are equal,” Johnson said. “And it is denying equality to deny the woman control over her own body.”

Planned Parenthood has called heartbeat legislation “gross” and “dangerous.”

Similar heartbeat bills have been introduced in Kentucky and South Carolina. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said he would support a heartbeat bill in his state as well.

However, earlier this week, a judge declared Iowa’s heartbeat law unconstitutional.

The goal of the legislation is to prevent the deaths of thousands of unborn babies every year. However, even some pro-life advocates admit that the success of the legislation is uncertain. While the rationale behind the law is noble, a number of pro-life leaders recognize that, for the present, such laws may create unintended consequences that could hamper the pro-life cause.

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 its ruling on the six-week ban: “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.”

When courts rule against such laws, state taxpayers often are forced to reimburse pro-abortion groups for their legal fees.

There is more hope that the new conservative-majority Supreme Court may consider an abortion ban, but it is difficult to say if it would for certain. Some legal scholars have speculated that the conservative court would be more likely to consider cases that gradually chip away at Roe v. Wade rather than reverse it completely.