‘Trigger’ abortion bill fails in state subcommittee, local reps opposed

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A bill that would outlaw most abortions in Tennessee if Roe v. Wade is overturned failed in a state subcommittee this week, with Reps. Micah Van Huss, R-Jonesborough, and Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, voting against it. 

Dubbed the “Human Life Protection Act,” the preemptive bill is similar to other “trigger” bills passed in other states – Arkansas became the fifth state to pass such a bill last month, following Louisiana, Mississippi, North Dakota and South Dakota. 

The bill would only become law in the event that Roe v. Wade is overturned or the U.S. Constitution is amended to allow states to prohibit abortion. Under the bill, anyone performing or attempting to perform an abortion would be charged with a Class C felony. 

The bill notes exceptions if “the 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,” but does not include an exception for women who would be in danger due to their mental health. 

There are also no noted exemptions in cases of rape or incest.

The bill failed this week in the state public health subcommittee this week in a 4-3 vote. Both Hill and Van Huss, members of the subcommittee, voted against the legislation. 

Both lawmakers asserted that they still consider themselves fully pro-life, but disagreed with the bill because of the effect it would have on the state’s separation of power clause.

As Van Huss described it, the bill surrenders too much power to the judicial branch. 

“Congress has done this for too long on the hard issues and now we have judges making law,” he said. 

“I remain committed to supporting legislation that does not illegally delegate legislative authority to the judiciary (branch),” Hill said in a statement. 

Both representatives said they would be in favor of the bill if it is amended to line up with the state constitution. 

Activist and retired nurse Carleen Claybaker said she is opposed to laws such as “The Human Life Protection Act” and Van Huss’s “Heartbeat Bill,” said she doesn’t understand why such laws should exist around a private medical procedure. 

Claybaker said her nursing career began before the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe V. Wade decision. She added that in her experience, outlawed abortion does not stop abortions from happening. 

“I’ve watched women die from self-induced abortions,” she said. “The whole era, it was a nightmare. I don’t want to return to that.”

She said instead of laws regulating or banning abortion, she would like to see more laws focused on providing healthcare for pregnant women and babies. 

“If you say you’re saving 5,000 babies a year, that’s 5,000 more babies that are extremely high risk,” she said. “We’re not meeting the needs of the (babies) we have now.” 

The bill is on the docket or the state Senate Judiciary Committee, which meets April 2. The public health subcommittee may vote to bring the bill back to the table at a future meeting.

Click here to view the bill on the State General Assembly website.

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