The Tennessee House of Representatives will vote on a measure that would require abortion providers to offer women ultrasounds before the procedure. It's a watered-down version of a more controversial proposal that stalled out last year, but it is nonetheless drawing criticism.
The House Health Committee on Tuesday approved an amended version of the so-called "heartbeat bill," House Bill 108, clearing it for a vote by the full Tennessee House.
The proposal dramatically scales back a bill that originally sought to ban all abortions after the detection of a heartbeat, which can occur as early as six weeks into pregnancy. That measure was controversial enough last year that even Tennessee Right to Life, one of the staunchest abortion opponents in the state, did not support it.
The rewritten version seeks to incorporate another idea that's been discussed in recent years by abortion opponents: providing ultrasounds to try to discourage abortions, rather than ban them. That, too, has been controversial, because ultrasounds cannot be performed during the early stages of pregnancy during which most abortions occur without using an internal probe.
So heartbeat bill's sponsor, Jonesborough Republican Micah Van Huss, says he wants to require abortion providers only to ask women if they want an ultrasound. And if they do, providers must note on their medical records whether a heartbeat was detected and report that information to the state Department of Health.
Opponents argue even that requirement is an unnecessary and emotionally cruel step for women seeking abortions to have to undertake.
“My concern here is on women who are using their constitutional right to do this — make no mistake, the most difficult decision of their life, in a lot of cases, if not every case," said Rep. John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville. "This seems to be putting an additional, emotional issue and burden on these women.”
Van Huss was not fazed by that criticism.
"My concern is not with the emotional health of a person seeking an abortion," Van Huss said during a committee hearing on the bill. "My concern is with the physical health of the baby inside."
A final vote could come in the state House as early as this month.
The state Senate has yet to act on the measure, but with Republicans holding a big majority — and eager, in an election year, to deliver on their promises to restrict abortion — the proposal stands a good chance of passing.