Local lawmakers praise Tennessee heartbeat bill as ACLU files lawsuit

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(WJHL)- Lawmakers from the Tri-Cities praised newly-passed Tennessee legislation outlawing abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected. Overnight votes in the House and Senate passed the sweeping heartbeat bill proposed by Tennessee Governor Bill Lee. The bill includes exceptions if the mother’s life is in danger, but not in the cases of rape or incest.

“Our job from a legislative standpoint is to protect all life, especially those that have no voice,” Rep. Timothy Hill (R-Blountville) told News Channel 11 on Friday.

Abortions based on sex, race, or the potential for Down syndrome are also banned. Among the bill’s requirements for doctors, ultrasounds must be performed before abortions. Medical professionals performing abortions after six weeks will be criminalized.

Rep. Bud Hulsey (R-Kingsport) also voted for the bill.

“I think the hope is to save as many children as we can save,” he said.

Hulsey believes the bill isn’t very restrictive to mothers beyond current abortion law in Tennessee.

“This bill is not all that restrictive to mothers. It does make doctors jump through some hoops in reporting and those types of things,” said Hulsey.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, Planned Parenthood, and the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a joint lawsuit against the state on Friday.

“The Tennessee General Assembly’s passage of this dangerous, flatly unconstitutional bill is unacceptable,” said ACLU-TN Executive Director Hedy Weinberg, “Lawmakers used this measure in a game of political maneuvering to pass the state budget — pushing it through without regard for the actual Tennesseans who will be denied access to the care they need including abortion.”

Similar heartbeat bills in other states have been struck down by courts. But Sen. Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol) believes this bill is different. Lundberg said a severability clause in the bill would help it stand even in the Supreme Court.

“So that if a portion is deemed unconstitutional, the rest of it still stands. So we believe we’ve got the strongest pro-life legislation in the country,” said Lundberg.

Sen. Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City) said if the six week ban on abortion is struck down by a court, then the abortion ban would still apply to later gestational periods, up to 24 weeks.

“It includes a layered-type structure that prohibits abortion after the unborn child reaches certain gestational age milestones, it’s like a laddered approach,” said Crowe.

Crowe said the abortion legislation was meant to be challenged.

“If you don’t get it into the Supreme Court with the type of structure this bill has, then you don’t ever have a chance of trying to change the law, and make a difference in trying to save the lives of these unborn children,” he said.

The House bill’s sponsor, Rep. Micah Van Huss (R-Jonesborough), did not respond to requests for comment on Friday.

Democrat Brad Batt, a challenger for Van Huss’ congressional seat, came out strongly against the bill, saying the legal battle would cost the state millions of dollars.

“I really find it arrogant and repugnant that mostly a large group of men in the Republican party want to inject themselves into what is a private healthcare decision for women,” said Batt.

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