Supporters of the so-called “heartbeat bill” broke out in applause after a state House committee approved the measure, but already both sides are anticipating the court fight ahead if the measure succeeds in passing the Tennessee General Assembly.
The 15-4 vote by the House Health Committee clears the measure, House Bill 77/Senate Bill 1236, for a vote by the full House of Representatives. The measure seeks to ban all abortions if a fetal heartbeat can be detected, typically about six weeks into pregnancy. Opponents note that's often before many women know they're pregnant.
Only Democratic members voted against the proposal. They include Memphis Rep. Barbara Cooper, who expressed concern to the bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Micah Van Huss of Jonesborough, that the measure offers no exceptions for victims of sexual assault.
"Are you stating that even in the case of rape, incest, that you are banning or prohibiting an abortion?" Cooper asked.
"I am. I do not think, Mrs. Cooper, that you would think that killing babies is the right thing to do," Van Huss replied.
Conservative legislatures are pushing increasingly strict anti-abortion laws. They're seeking to trigger a legal challenge to the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that established a nationwide right to abortion.
The American Civil Liberties Union's Tennessee chapter announced Tuesday that it will sue the state if the measure is signed into law.
But Tennessee debated a proposal banning abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected in 2017, and what held it up then were questions about whether it would stand up in court. The state’s attorney general declared the measure "constitutionally suspect."
Even the anti-abortion group Tennessee Right to Life opposed the proposal, arguing it would serve as a poor vehicle for trying to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Similar legislation in Iowa was recently struck down after it was ruled unconstitutional by a state court.
Senate Speaker Randy McNally says lawmakers in his chamber will consider the price of a legal fight, especially as it's taken up by the Judiciary Committee.
"That’ll be one of the concerns — what’ll the cost be to the state."
Practicing OB/GYN Kimberly Leony expressed her frustration with the bill supporters. She said shortly after committee vote that the bill is demeaning to women.
"We’ve got to do better with knowing that women have the ability to be their own individuals and make decisions for themselves," she said. "I am sick of politicians trampling on women’s rights."