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Tennessee Lawmakers Pass New Anti-Abortion Bill In Last-Minute Vote

Sergio Martinez-Beltran | WPLN

In a late-night, last-minute vote, the Tennessee Senate passed what would become one of the most restrictive anti-abortion bills in the country.

The measure (SB2196/HB2263) had been championed by Gov. Bill Lee, although he said it was not a priority once the coronavirus pandemic struck in the state.

The measure would ban abortions after fetal cardiac activity has been detected — which happens about six weeks in the pregnancy.

The House voted on the measure Thursday morning, even as Republican leaders in the Senate were saying they would not pick it up because it was not related to the budget or the pandemic.

But, early Friday morning, in the heat of budget negotiations between the chambers, the Senate decided to vote on it.

Sen. Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, said the measure “offers one of the nation’s strongest opportunity to protect the life of the unborn.”

The measure now goes to the governor’s desk for his signature.

Other states have passed similar measures that have been declared unconstitutional. But what makes Tennessee’s bill different is the backup provisions it will have.

Proponents of the law expect it to be challenged in the courts, so they have include a “ladder effect” in the language: If a court finds the new legislation unconstitutional, then abortions would be banned after week eight of the pregnancy. If that’s struck down, then the procedure would be prohibited after week 10. It’s expected to go all the way until week 24.

“It is time for us to push back as a state for the people that we represent and to make the statement for the unborn,” said Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown.

The new measure would also prohibit abortions if the mother uses gender, disability or race as a motivation to undergo the procedure.

Additionally, there are no exceptions for rape or incest.

Most of the state’s Democrats opposed the effort.

Sen. Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville, called the passage of the measure a “pretty grotesque bargain.”

“The Senate got to keep some of the things that it wanted in the budget, like making sure that tax cuts for stocks and dividends held,” Yarbro told WPLN News. “In exchange, we decided to pass in the middle of the night — apparently — an abortion bill which is the most restrictive abortion bill in Tennessee’s history.”

The measure is expected to be challenge up becoming law.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee has already said they will sue.

“Lawmakers used this measure in a game of political maneuvering to pass the state budget — pushing it through without regard for the actual Tennesseans who will be denied access to the care they need, including abortion,” said Executive Director Hedy Weinberg. “As promised, we will see them in court.”

Sergio Martínez-Beltrán is Nashville Public Radio’s political reporter. Prior to moving to Nashville, Sergio covered education for the Standard-Examiner newspaper in Ogden, Utah. He is a Puerto Rico native and his work has also appeared on NPR station WKAR, San Antonio Express-News, Inter News Service, GFR Media and WMIZ 1270 AM.
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