A Tennessee bill to protect unborn babies from abortion in almost all circumstances is on its way to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk.
In a surprising move, state Senators passed the pro-life legislation by an overwhelming majority in a 23-5 vote early Friday morning, The Nashville Tennessean reports.
The state House approved the bill earlier this week, but, because the legislative session is nearly over, many thought the Senate would not vote on the bill.
Though the legislation is being described as a heartbeat bill, it includes many different measures to protect unborn babies. Pro-life lawmakers said they wrote the bill to withstand a legal challenge – and the American Civil Liberties Union already has announced plans to sue, according to the report.
According to WTVF News 5, state Rep. William Lamberth, R-Portland, expressed hope that the legislation will be upheld in court and save lives.
“Every time we have passed a measure that was in favor of a life in the womb, it has been challenged in the courts…” Lamberth said. “This bill is in such solid legal footing. We feel good about the fact that it could save millions of lives. And those lives are their most vulnerable because they are still in their mother’s womb.”
The heartbeat portion of the bill would prohibit abortions once an unborn baby’s heartbeat is detectable, about six weeks of pregnancy. Some news outlets reported the bill may ban abortions even sooner, noting a provision to prohibit abortions as soon as the pregnancy hormone human chorionic gonadotropin can be detected (about 11 days of pregnancy).
The bill includes other levels of restriction going up from eight weeks to 24 weeks of pregnancy, which would go into effect if a court would strike down the earlier limits, the report states.
The bill also would ban discriminatory abortions based on the unborn baby’s sex, race or a Down syndrome diagnosis. It allows exceptions if the mother’s life is at risk.
Abortionists who violate these bans could face felony charges.
The pro-life legislation includes informed consent measures as well. It would require abortion facilities to inform women of the abortion pill reversal procedure and the size and gestational age of their unborn baby. It also would require abortion facilities to allow the mother to hear her unborn baby’s heartbeat and see the baby on an ultrasound.
Lee, a pro-life Republican, announced earlier this year that the bill is one of his top priorities. He is expected to sign it soon.
“Every human life is precious, and we have a responsibility to protect it,” Lee said.
However, the success of the legislation against a legal challenge is uncertain.
Some pro-lifers have renewed hope that the conservative-majority U.S. Supreme Court will uphold an abortion ban and overturn Roe v. Wade. Others, however, are hesitant because of concerns about losing the court battle and being forced to reimburse pro-abortion groups for their legal fees.
The high court is expected to hand down a decision on a Louisiana pro-life law early next week, and it will provide a clearer sign about the justices’ positions on abortion. Chief Justice John Roberts, who was nominated by a Republican president, has sided with the liberal justices on a number of occasions.
North Dakota and Arkansas passed heartbeat bills several years ago, but federal courts struck down both laws. In 2019, judges also blocked a number of other heartbeat bills in Iowa, Georgia, Ohio, Mississippi, Missouri and other states.
The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals said the following about its ruling on the six-week abortion 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.”
The Supreme Court took away the states’ ability to protect unborn babies from abortion under Roe v. Wade, and instead allowed abortion on demand through all nine months of pregnancy. Roe made the United States one of only seven countries in the world that allows elective abortions after 20 weeks.