Senate dangles approval of abortion bill to get House to back down on budget

The Senate meets in Nashville on June 1, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Sweeping legislation aimed at banning most abortions in Tennessee is suddenly back in play as the House and Senate look to break an impasse and adjourn the session for the year.

The Senate had included the abortion legislation among an array of bills it didn’t plan to take up for not being related to the COVID-19 pandemic or being time-sensitive. That appears on the verge of changing late Thursday, as the Senate is expected to suspend its rules and hold vote on the bill. In return, the House is expected to relent on many of the changes it sought to make to the budget proposal approved by the upper chamber.

The bill was first introduced at the behest of Gov. Bill Lee.  It is widely expected to be challenged in court, as similar laws in other states have. Supporters say they hope a legal challenge could reach the U.S. Supreme Court and cause the Roe v. Wade decision to be overturned.

According to the Chattanooga Times Free Press:

Lee’s bill deploys a “laddered” approach, offering various restrictions in hopes that if courts reject the strictest one, justices will consider the next one down the list and so forth, possibly accepting one of them.

Its strictest provision seeks to ban all abortions except to save the life of a woman or in cases of “serious risk” of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function upon detection of the hormone human chorionic gonadotropin. The hormone, produced by cells growing around a fetus, is detectable as early as 11 days after a woman becomes pregnant via a blood test and from 12-14 days by a urine test.

There are also “fetal heartbeat” provisions in the bill that bar abortion procedures upon detection of a fetus’ heart beat, as early as five-and-a-half to six weeks after gestation.

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