The Tennessee House on Monday advanced legislation prohibiting the state from funding health care facilities that offer abortions with state tax dollars based on the argument that support for abortion is tied to secular humanism.
GOP Rep. John Ragan, the bill’s sponsor, says the U.S. Supreme Court has previously recognized secular humanism as a religion. Ragan said the belief that abortion is not immoral and not homicide are key tenets of secular humanism. Because of that, he said, states that fund organizations providing abortions would be favoring one religion over another, which state and federal law don’t allow them to do.
The bill also states the measure can only be implemented if the federal government allows a state agency to deny family planning funds to an organization that performs abortions.
It’s a caveat that was quietly added to the measure as new federal rules backed by the Trump administration are expected to be implemented later this year that would ban family-planning clinics funded by the federal Title X program from making abortion referrals.
The GOP-dominant House members advanced the bill after a brief but tense debate between Democratic lawmakers and Ragan over the appropriateness of the proposal.
Particularly, Democrats raised concerns about the measure’s definition of “convenience abortion,” which under the bill would mean any elective abortion not performed with the intent to save the life of the mother, remove an ectopic pregnancy or abort an “unborn child” that is the result of rape or incest.
The legislation also warns that organizations that provide “convenience abortions” tend to erode community standards because they encourage promiscuity and normalize certain beliefs about sex when the state’s policy should be to favor childbirth.
“I’m wondering from what garbage can you pulled this definition out of and what state you copied this definition from,” said Rep. John Ray Clemmons, a Democrat from Nashville who is running for mayor in the liberal-leaning city.
“I would invite my esteemed colleague from Nashville to perhaps use more respectful language when addressing someone in this well concerning a bill,” Ragan responded. “I did not pull this out of any trash can. And from that, I don’t think the rest of your question deserves an answer.”
The proposal must now pass the Senate before it can head to the governor’s desk for final approval.
The bill comes in addition to a handful of anti-abortion bills the Tennessee General Assembly has discussed this session, including banning abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected and automatically banning abortion should the U.S. Supreme Court overturn its landmark Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide.