A bill in Tennessee being weighed by lawmakers would essentially ban abortion as soon as a woman knows she’s pregnant — and it’s probably unconstitutional. But at least one Republican backer says that’s the point.
The legislation, Senate Bill 1236, and its counterpart in the Tennessee House, H.B. 77, have been stalled during this session, but supporters hope to vote on its passage in January.
States such as Alabama and Georgia have instituted “heartbeat” laws, named because they restrict abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected. This can occur as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, before a woman may know she is pregnant. Other states, such as Ohio and Mississippi, have enacted such measures only to have them blocked or challenged in court.
“We want a vehicle to lead the Supreme Court to consider, I hope, overturning or at least chipping away at Roe v. Wade,” state Sen. Kerry Roberts (R) told CBS News. Roberts sits on the Tennessee Senate Judiciary Committee, which invited several witnesses to speak at hearings Monday and Tuesday.
The bill had initially stalled in the state Senate because “the pro-life people all agreed that they want to see restrictions on abortion, but they started disagreeing on how to do it,” Roberts said.
Roberts’s legislative assistant, Janet Batchelor, told The Washington Post that the lawmaker’s position on the legislation has not changed.
A new amendment would give a fetus the same constitutional rights as a person under state law and bar abortion in all cases unless the life of the pregnant woman was at risk. The bill also would bar terminations of pregnancies confirmed by the presence of the human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) hormone.
“A person shall not purposely perform or induce, or attempt to perform or induce, an abortion upon a pregnant woman when a viable pregnancy is presumed to exist or has been confirmed,” the amendment says.
Roberts’s colleague and the author of the legislation, state Sen. Mark Pody (R), acknowledged that he was “sure it’s going to be challenged in court” but stopped short of saying that was the intent.
Many of the most restrictive abortion laws conflict with landmark decisions such as Roe v. Wade or Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which underpinned a woman’s right to choose to terminate a pregnancy. Abortion opponents believe that at least one such measure will face legal challenges that will allow it to reach the U.S. Supreme Court, where conservative justices hold a 5-to-4 majority.
Heather Shumaker, a, senior counsel at the National Women’s Law Center, which supports abortion rights, told The Post that “antiabortion folks are feeling emboldened, with [Justice Brett] Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court, with Trump in office using antiabortion, inflammatory rhetoric” to push such legislation.
Shumaker will appear as a witness before the state’s Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, where she plans to highlight the bill’s controversial measures and “the people who are going to be harmed by this bill, who we see harmed already by abortion restriction in the U.S.”
“People of color, people of low-income jobs, people who live in rural areas, people who already have kids,” she said, “those are the people who are going to be hit the hardest by this kind of bill.”