NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) — A Republican bill that would add exceptions to Tennessee’s abortion ban was advanced by a state House subcommittee on Tuesday.
An amended House Bill 883 would clarify that the termination of a pregnancy to remove an “ectopic or molar pregnancy” or “medically futile pregnancy” would not constitute a criminal abortion under the Tennessee Human Life Protection Act, also known as the “trigger law.”
The legislation would also create exceptions for medical emergencies, the disposal “of an unimplanted fertilized egg,” or to “address a lethal fetal anomaly.”
“Who would want to tell their spouse, child, or loved one that their life is not important in a medical emergency, as you watch them die when they could have been saved?” bill sponsor Rep. Esther Helton-Haynes (R-East Ridge) said during a Population Health Subcommittee hearing. “This bill clarifies what I believe the original intent of the trigger bill was, which is to ban elective abortion in the state of Tennessee.”
The bill would not create exceptions for rape or incest.
The current trigger law, which went into effect after Roe v. Wade was overturned, contains no exceptions. It does contain an “affirmative defense to prosecution” for providers if an abortion “was necessary to prevent the death of the pregnant woman or to prevent serious risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman.”
Back in July, Sen. Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City), who chairs the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, indicated the trigger law may need to be “fine-tuned” after doctors and medical groups like the Tennessee Medical Association reached out to him with concerns about the law.
“Right now a physician who saves the life of a mother who has pregnancy complications could only defend himself or herself after being charged with a crime,” Yarnell Beatty, a Tennessee Medical Association attorney said Tuesday. “What this bill does is it makes that due diligence take place before a charge, to make sure that all the elements of the crime are met before charging.”
Will Brewer, a lobbyist for the anti-abortion group Tennessee Right to Life, said his organization is open to making clarifications to the law but said parts of the bill are too vague.
“Once one doctor is let off the hook in a criminal trial, a doctor that abused the nature of this law, it would be open season for other doctors who wanted to perform bad faith terminations to do so, knowing that this law is unprosecutable,” Brewer said.
He also said the bill would repeal the heartbeat abortion ban, which serves as a “safety net” in the event the trigger law is repealed or overturned.
“No, I would not consider this a pro-life law,” Brewer said. “And in discussion with our (political action committee), they have informed me that they would score this negatively for those members that wish to vote for it.”
That comment prompted Republican Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton to accuse Brewer of attempting to intimidate committee members “by telling them they were going to score them a vote.”
“To do it in a committee, to try to intimidate this committee to go a certain direction is uncalled for,” Sexton said. “So I’m here to support this bill, to show you all the support on this committee, whoever votes for it, that I stand with you and not having the intimidation come before this committee.”
The Population Health Subcommittee approved the bill, with Rep. Bryan Terry (R-Murfreesboro) asking that his “no” vote be recorded. The bill now heads to the Health Committee.