Tennessee House lawmakers advanced a pro-life bill modeled after the Texas heartbeat law Tuesday to protect unborn babies from abortion in their state.
WMC News 8 reports the state House Health Subcommittee passed the Human Life Protection Act (House Bill 2779), sponsored by state Rep. Rebecca Alexander, R-Jonesborough, sending it to the full committee for consideration.
“This bill is modeled directly after the legislation passed in Texas last year. Abortions since that bill has been passed have dropped 60 percent in Texas,” Alexander told the committee. “It leaves enforcement up to private citizens through civil lawsuits instead of criminal prosecutors.”
Unlike the Texas bill, the Tennessee legislation would ban all abortions on unborn babies. Exceptions would be allowed “to prevent death or irreversible bodily harm to the woman.”
If it passes and the courts do not block it, the legislation could save more than 10,000 unborn babies’ lives every year. In 2018, 10,888 abortions were done in Tennessee, according to state health statistics.
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What is similar to the Texas law is the private enforcement mechanism, which allows private individuals to sue abortionists for aborting unborn babies in violation of the ban. According to WPLN News, the bill states, “… any person may bring civil action against any person or entity that performs an abortion or aids or abets, or intends to aid or abet, in the performance of an abortion, regardless of the knowledge of the abortion.”
An exception prohibits lawsuits from abusers who impregnated a patient “through an act of rape, sexual assault, or incest.”
After the vote, the abortion facility CHOICES Memphis Center for Reproduction Health released a statement slamming the bill as “extreme.”
“If this bill is allowed to go into effect, people who need abortions will be forced to either travel out of state, not receive the health care that they need, or seek abortions in unsafe situations,” the statement read. “This is a heartbreaking decision and one that sets Tennesseans back decades.”
The unique private enforcement mechanism in the Texas law is the reason why the courts have allowed the law to stay in effect, saving thousands of unborn babies’ lives. Though the court battle over the Texas law is not over, pro-lifers in Tennessee and other states hope that by passing similar pro-life laws with private enforcement mechanisms that they, too, will save unborn babies from abortion while Roe v. Wade remains. The Idaho legislature passed a similar bill this week.
Since Roe in 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court has prohibited states from banning abortions before an unborn baby is viable. As a result, about 63 million unborn babies have been killed in abortions in the U.S.
Last year, however, the Supreme Court gave pro-life advocates new hope when it refused twice to block enforcement of the Texas law. As a result, Texas is the first state to be allowed to enforce a pre-viability abortion ban in nearly five decades.
In December, the justices also heard a direct challenge to Roe from Mississippi in the case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health. The Supreme Court likely will publish its ruling on the case until June.
The Guttmacher Institute estimates 26 states “are certain or likely to ban abortions” if the Supreme Court gets rid of Roe. And researchers estimated that abortion numbers would drop by about 120,000 in the first year and potentially even more in subsequent years if the high court allows states to ban abortions again.