Lee to introduce sweeping bill to restrict abortions in Tennessee

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at a press conference about his plan to introduce sweeping legislation to restrict access to abortions in Tennessee. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee is proposing a sweeping bill aimed at restricting access to abortions in Tennessee. The bill would ban most abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected and would require women to undergo an ultrasound before seeking to terminate a pregnancy.

The bill includes a “ladder” approach of severerability clauses to that would keep provisions of the law in place if certain components are thrown out in court. For example, if the heartbeat provision doesn’t pass muster, the state could enact a ban at eight weeks, ten weeks or 12 weeks, depending what stands up in court.

Here’s the release from the governor’s office:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Gov. Bill Lee announced that he will submit comprehensive pro-life legislation to the Tennessee General Assembly this year, including the prohibition of an abortion where a fetal heartbeat exists. This legislation would make Tennessee one of the most pro-life states in the country.

“I believe that every human life is precious, and we have a responsibility to protect it,” said Gov. Bill Lee. “Today, Tennessee is taking a monumental step in celebrating, cherishing, and defending life at every stage. I’m grateful to be joined by so many leaders in our state who are boldly standing up for our most vulnerable.”

This legislation would build upon successes in other states while incorporating innovative approaches to enhance existing law, including provisions such as:

  • Prohibiting an abortion where a fetal heartbeat exists;
  • Requiring a mother to undergo an ultrasound prior to an abortion;
  • Prohibiting an abortion where the physician is aware that the decision to seek an abortion is motivated by the race, sex, or health or disability diagnosis of the unborn child. 

To protect against legal challenges, the new law would also include a creative “ladder” provision, modeled after Missouri law, of sequential abortion prohibitions at two-week gestational age intervals, along with severability clauses for each step of the ladder.

“As someone who takes seriously the cause of life, I am ecstatic to support this legislation. The many provisions of this bill represent great leaps forward for the cause of life in Tennessee. The destination has always been clear. The issue has been identifying the proper vehicle. We now have the proper vehicle. This comprehensive, tiered approach is our best chance of advancing the cause of life without sacrificing the gains we have made. I appreciate the great work of Chairman Bell and the Judiciary Committee for their contributions to this effort. And my deepest thanks go to Governor Lee for bringing forth this much-needed, common-sense legislation. I support this initiative wholeheartedly and without reservation,” said Lt. Governor Randy McNally.

“The General Assembly has been committed to making Tennessee a very strong pro-life state over the last decade.  Obviously, we are very supportive and appreciative of the Governor’s dedication to pro-life principles. We are looking forward to working with him and his team on this issue, as well as his legislative vision. I know members of the House and the chairmen are eager to review the proposed language and continue their strong support for life,” said Speaker Cameron Sexton.

“This comprehensive legislation is a powerful step forward in our efforts to protect the life of unborn children in Tennessee. I commend Governor Lee for his leadership on this important issue and look forward to doing everything possible to ensure its passage,” said Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson. 

“I applaud Governor Lee for his ambitious thinking on this unprecedented initiative that will further enhance Tennessee’s status as a national pro-life leader. I strongly support this initiative, and I will never stop fighting to provide a voice for and to protect our unborn children,” said House Majority Leader William Lamberth.

“I appreciate Governor Lee’s commitment to protecting the life of the unborn and look forward to working with him to ensure passage of this legislation,” said Senator Dolores Gresham.

“As a strong pro-life advocate, I have always fought for the unborn. I look forward to joining Governor Lee and Leader Lamberth in continuing that effort on this very important issue that is dear to my heart,” said Chairman Susan Lynn.

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