String of anti-abortion bills proposed in Tennessee

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Republican lawmakers in Tennessee have introduced a wide range of anti-abortion legislation following newly elected Gov. Bill Lee’s promise to support any bill reducing the number of abortions throughout the state.

The falls in line with a nationwide momentum from anti-abortion legislators and activists who believe President Donald Trump has strengthened their cause with the appointments of conservative Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Abortion opponents foresee the possibility that the high court might either reverse Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling establishing a nationwide right to abortion, or uphold specific state laws that would undermine Roe.

Most prominently, a proposal in Tennessee would ban abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected — typically as early as six weeks into a woman’s pregnancy — has received the governor’s early endorsement. At least five other states have introduced similar legislative proposals: Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio and South Carolina.

“I just continue to support those types of moves in our state,” Republican Gov. Bill Lee told The Associated Press last week.

However, while attention has largely focused on Lee’s support of the so-called “fetal heartbeat” bill due to potentially costly legal challenges, a number of other proposals also have been introduced this legislative session calling for increased punishments and restricted access surrounding abortions in Tennessee.

For example, one bill would trigger an abortion ban in the state if the Supreme Court overturns its landmark 1973 decision that legalized the procedure across the nation. Currently, 18 states have such laws already on the books; while 10 states have laws protecting the right to an abortion should Roe v. Wade be overturned.

Republican backers say the bill is timelier than ever even with the high court decision last week to block Louisiana from enforcing new abortion regulations requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.

“I am still hopeful,” said Rep. Susan Lynn, a Republican from Mt. Juliet who is co-sponsoring the bill. “I am always hopeful … We’re closer than ever.”

Lee also maintained his optimism when asked about the Louisiana case.

“No, I’m supportive of bills and legislation that would reduce abortions in Tennessee,” Lee said.

Meanwhile, some bills don’t explicitly seek to ban abortion but they do make the rules surrounding the procedure much more strict.

For example, one of the proposals recently introduced would require doctors performing abortions on girls younger than 18 years old to preserve a sample of the fetal tissue for law enforcement.

Currently, the so-called Child Rape Protection Act of 2006 requires doctors to submit the DNA sample when performing abortions on young girls under 13 — an age many lawmakers voting in favor of the bill at the time argued was appropriate because it was likely a 13-year-old girl or younger seeking an abortion was sexually abused.

It’s unclear how much support the GOP-dominated Statehouse will give the bill this year.

Another bill states seeks to block the state from “enforcing, respecting, recognizing, favoring or endorsing policies” that fund abortion facilities with state tax dollars because support of abortion is tied to “secular humanism.”

“The naked assertions that ‘abortion is not murder,’ ‘that abortion is not immoral,’ and that ‘life does not begin at conception’ are unproven faith-based assumptions that are implicitly religious and are unproven truth claims that are inseparably linked to the religion of secular humanism;” the bill reads.

The bill is in the early stages of making its way through the Statehouse.

Finally, a separate bill would increase the fine on physicians who fail to report illegal abortions on children younger than 13 from $500 to $1,000 for the first offense. Second offense fines would bump up from $1,000 to $1,500.

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