Tri-Cities legal experts explain what Tennessee’s fetal heartbeat abortion bill would mean for the state

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JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — Last week, Tennessee state lawmakers passed what is being called “the most restrictive abortion bill in the country.”

The bill would make performing abortions after a fetal heart beat is detected illegal.

Pheben Kassahun explains what this means for the state of Tennessee.

Lincoln Memorial University professor Stewart Harris said the “heartbeat bill” creates more than an undue burden than what Louisiana lawmakers attempted right before the Supreme Court struck down its abortion law Monday.

“It places a complete prohibition on abortion, well in advance of 20 weeks,” Harris said.

Harris said the Tennessee legislature wants to use the law as a vehicle to challenge and modify the current ruling of Planned Parenthood vs. Casey, which prohibits abortions at about 28 weeks.

Rep. Timothy Hill (R-Blountville) said, “Really disgusted at what the Supreme Court did. We’ve got to put ourselves in a position to protect life. That is something that is fundamental.”

Thomas Jessee, the attorney who represents the Tri-Cities only abortion clinic, said he is surprised state lawmakers would craft a law that has already been declared unconstitutional elsewhere.

“In the end, costs the taxpayers in this state substantial sums of money to have the state defend the law that ultimately is unenforceable,” attorney Thomas Jessee with Jessee and Jessee Law Firm said.

Jessee said the bill would substantially impact women’s lives.

“You have a situation where, number one with the heartbeat situation, it’s very hard to detect, so you have a situation where some women don’t even know they’re pregnant before it’s too late to be given the alternative,” Jessee said. “And then having to comply with some of the other parts of the bill.”

“What will happen with the heartbeat bill remains to be seen,” Rep. Hill said. “We know that it will head to court. We knew that going into it but life is worth fighting for, life is worth protecting.”

If the Supreme Court strikes down the six-week ban, the Tennessee legislation would automatically enact abortion bans at eight, 10, and 12 weeks of gestation and so on.

Harris said, “They’re trying to pass the law to get as much restriction as the Supreme Court will allow on abortions, prior to the point of viability.”

Hill, who co-sponsored the heartbeat bill, said he hopes the Supreme Court will approve the Tennessee law as constitutional.

“I am very pro-life,” Hill said. “One of the most stringent pieces of legislation that has been passed, and it’s similar to some of the other states but fortunately, now Tennessee has its version that will be on the books here shortly.”

Harris said, “Perhaps the most significant part of this other than timing is that there’s no exception for rape or incest in the Tennessee statute. A lot of people who are pro-life, will make that exception.”

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