The Senate Judiciary Committee advanced an anti-abortion bill Tuesday pushed by Tennessee Governor Bill Lee and opposed by many.
Sen. Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol), one of the bill’s sponsors, said the legislation (SB 2196) is “one of the nation’s strongest opportunities to protect the life of the unborn.”
He also added that “nothing in the bill criminalizes a pregnant woman nor does this bill mandate measures that would endanger the life or health of a pregnant woman.”
The meat of the legislation comes in an amendment, which Lang Wiseman, deputy to the governor and chief counsel for the governor’s office, explained to the committee.
In his testimony, he outlined the four main provisions of the bill’s amendment, which include:
• Eliminating the requirement that the Department of Children’s Services provide court advocates to minors seeking to receive an abortion without parental consent
• Requiring an ultrasound as a part of the informed consent process
• Prohibiting discriminatory abortions based on sex, race, or disability
• Prohibiting abortion at several gestational milestones from the time there is a fetal heartbeat through 24 weeks
Wiseman said the last provision allows Tennessee to “play both the long game and the short game.”
“This approach would allow us test the limits of current Supreme Court precedent, while also allowing us to achieve, in one instance, the most protective provisions under state law that a court would approve.”
Violating any of the provisions would be a Class C felony, Wiseman said.
Aaron Snodderly, executive director of the Tennessee Independent Baptists for Religious Freedom, spoke in support of the bill, encouraging the committee to “protect the innocent lives of babies that have a heartbeat in their mother’s wombs.”
“To those who are on the other side of the aisle, the more liberal side of the aisle, I believe you’re at a crossroads,” Snodderly said. “If this is a life, then that means you are supporting murder. That means you’re not trying to plan your parenthood. You’re supporting planning the murder of an innocent baby.”
Ashley Coffield, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi, testified before the committee, calling the bill a “dangerous package of legislation” and “one of the most extreme attacks on reproductive healthcare.”
“The bill includes additional medically unnecessary restrictions designed to shame and judge people seeking abortions and it criminalizes doctors for treating their patients,” Coffield said. “The bill goes way too far, inserting government into our private lives.”
Sen. Janice Bowling asked “shouldn’t the right to life preempt the right to privacy?”
“These are personal decisions that should be left to individuals to make based on their own values and healthcare,” Coffield said in response.
Coffield added that at six weeks, most women don’t know they are pregnant: “This bill could take away a woman’s right to make her own medical decisions before she knows she even has a decision to make.”
Sen. Sara Kyle (D-Memphis) opposed the bill, telling the committee that it does not consider the overall healthcare of pregnant women
“One again we find ourselves discussing an issue that’s already been decided by the Supreme Court,” Kyle said. “It’s my opinion that the state legislature has no business intruding on personal, moral decisions. If this body was genuinely interested in reducing unwanted pregnancies and supporting children, let’s start by making sure every family has access to affordable health care and contraception, which again this bill did not address.”
Voting 7-2, the committee advanced the bill to the full Senate with a favorable recommendation. Sens. Kyle and Katrina Robinson (D-Memphis) were the only two voting no.