NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) — The Tennessee House passed legislation Monday to add narrow exemptions to the state’s abortion ban, but the proposal still has hurdles to clear in the Senate.
The bill would add exemptions for terminating ectopic or molar pregnancies and abortions that in a doctor’s “reasonable medical judgment” are necessary to prevent the death of or serious injury to the mother.
The Republican-dominated chamber voted 83–11 in favor of the proposal.
How Northeast Tennessee Lawmakers Voted
Rep. Rebecca Alexander (R-Jonesborough): YES
Rep. Scotty Campbell (R-Mountain City): YES
Rep. John Crawford (R-Bristol/Kingsport): YES
Rep. Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby): YES
Rep. David Hawk (R-Greeneville): YES
Rep. Tim Hicks (R-Gray): YES
Rep. Gary Hicks (R-Rogersville): YES
Rep. John Holsclaw (R-Elizabethton): YES
Rep. Bud Hulsey (R-Kingsport): YES
Tennessee’s abortion ban makes it a felony to provide an abortion and doesn’t contain exceptions for rape, incest, or the mother’s health. It only includes “affirmative defense” that puts the burden on the doctor to prove in court that an abortion was necessary to prevent serious injury to the mother or her death.
That means a physician who performs an abortion to save a mother’s life could still be charged with a felony.
Medical professionals have urged lawmakers to change the law so that doctors don’t have to fear criminal prosecution for performing a medically necessary abortion, which could lead to providers deferring proper treatment.
Tennessee’s attorney general has also expressed concerns about the legality of the affirmative defense.
“This bill provides better clarity and returns to normal judicial system practice ‘innocent until proven guilty,'” Rep. Esther Helton-Haynes (R-East Ridge), the bill’s sponsor, said. “It protects the life of the mother and the life of the baby.”
Some Democratic lawmakers criticized the bill for not going far enough.
“I want to say that this language is murky, that it only allows for a very, very narrow exception and every single day there are different occurrences that put women at risk,” Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville) said. “Doctors are still at risk with this legislation and women are still at risk.”
Last week, the anti-abortion group Tennessee Right to Life announced its support of the bill after opposing previous versions of the proposal.
The bill will still have to pass the Senate before it can go to the governor’s desk. The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to consider the bill on Tuesday.