The so-called “fetal heartbeat bill” is likely to not move forward this year in the Tennessee legislature.
The Senate Judiciary Committee decided Tuesday evening to send the bill (SB1236/HB77) to summer study.
The measure would ban abortions once a fetal heartbeat has been detected. Experts says that happens around the sixth week of the pregnancy.
Republican Sen. Mike Bell, the chairman of the committee, says he is concerned about what would happen if the measure is challenged with a lawsuit.
“So far these bills have not fared well in the courts. In other states the heartbeat bill has been struck down, and states have been forced to pay attorney fees to Planned Parenthood," Bell told committee members. "My conscience would not allow me to put Tennessee on that path.”
The House passed the heartbeat bill earlier this session — the second time it's done so. The first time was in 2017, when House lawmakers acted against the advice of the Tennessee Attorney General's Office, which classified the measure as "constitutionally suspect."
The Senate, however, has been more cautious. It forced massive changes to the heartbeat bill in 2017, effectively rendering it meaningless, and senators have been skeptical again this time around.
Senate Speaker Randy McNally said in a statement he fully supports the decision of the judiciary committee.
"The bill is flawed in its current form. Amendment One put the abortion industry on the ropes in Tennessee. We have done all we can to defund Planned Parenthood. We have put in place reasonable restrictions to help prevent abortion," McNally said. "Passing a constitutionally suspect bill now would give the courts an opportunity to erase the progress we have made. And a losing court fight would likely result in awarding taxpayer money to Planned Parenthood. "
Francie Hunt, the executive director of Tennessee Advocates for Planned Parenthood, told WPLN that the Senate's decision "shows that both sides understand the reality of how unconstitutional and fiscally irresponsible this bill was."
The legislature is also considering another anti-abortion bill — the Human Life Protection Act (SB1257/HB1029). That measure would ban abortions if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.
The bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. The House is weighing whether to reconsider it in a few weeks, after it failed in a subcommittee last month.