Despite Bipartisan Concerns, Tennessee's 'Heartbeat Bill' Passes House Along Party Lines | Nashville Public Radio

Despite Bipartisan Concerns, Tennessee's 'Heartbeat Bill' Passes House Along Party Lines

Mar 7, 2019

The lower chamber of the Tennessee General Assembly has passed one of the most restrictive anti-abortion bills in the country.

The so-called “Heartbeat Bill” was approved Thursday in the state's house of representatives on a party-line vote. But members of both parties still express concern about its legality. 

Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, was one of the few Republicans to show some hesitation.

He is concerned that the bill, which would ban abortions once a heartbeat has been detected, wouldn’t stand up in court.

“It would probably never save a life if we go by what’s happened in the past," Dunn said during the debate on the house floor. "Number two, if it’s challenged in the courts, it's going to drive up a legal bill and so our money would be going to pro-abortion groups.”

Dunn tried to propose an amendment on the House floor but was ignored.

Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, wanted to exclude cases of rape and incest, raising her hand throughout most of the 42-minute debate.  She was not allowed to speak, and her amendment was never considered.

“They gave more rights to a violent rapist than they gave to a woman who’s a victim of a violent crime," Johnson told WPLN. "That is disgusting.”

The measure’s fate is less certain in the Senate.

Speaker Randy McNally says his chamber will monitor how courts rule on similar laws in other states, before putting the bill to a vote. 

The bill has been controversial since it's conception. The Tennessee Right to Life, one of the state's largest anti-abortion group, has opposed the bill twice. And the local chapter of the ACLU has already said they will sue the state if it passes.

In 2017, the state's attorney general classified a similar bill as "constitutionally suspect."