House sub kills ‘fetal heartbeat’ bill

On a 5-4 vote, the House Health Subcommittee has put off any consideration of a so-called “fetal heartbeat” bill until next year. The measure would have prohibited an abortion once a fetus heartbeat could be detected, which typically occurs within six weeks of conception.

The bill by Rep. Micah Van Huss, R-Gray, (HB108) had been deemed “constitutionally suspect” by Attorney General Herbert Slatery in a recent legal opinion. (Previous post HERE.)

Though there was no discussion of the measure Wednesday, there was a week earlier, reports the Johnson City Press.

In a lengthy subcommittee hearing last week before a vote on the bill was postponed, Van Huss said as a Christian, he believed it was his moral obligation to pursue the legislation.

“For me, the answer to abortion is a simple one — God says in the book of Jeremiah: ‘Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, and before you were born, I consecrated you,’” the lawmaker said to the panel.

By blocking up to 90 percent of currently legal abortions, Van Huss said the bill had the potential to save thousands of unborn babies each year in the state.

But some at the meeting last week, including the man who managed the 2014 campaign to pass a state constitutional amendment giving lawmakers broader power to regulate and restrict abortion, argued against the bill.

Brian Harris, president of Tennessee Right to Life, warned passing Van Huss’ bill could lead to lost ground for the pro-life movement and its supporters in the General Assembly.

“The national pro-abortion attorneys that are coming into our state to argue against those statutes are using as Exhibit A the statutes you’ve already passed,” Harris said. “You bring an unconstitutional ban before them, and it’s only going to hearten their case.”

The panel did approve a less stringent bill sponsored by Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, (HB1189) that puts new restrictions on abortions before 20 weeks. That came on a voice vote after about 45 minutes of debate,  reports The Tennessean.

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AG says ‘heartbeat bill’ is constitutionally suspect

A new state attorney general’s opinion says pending legislation to prohibit abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected is “constitutionally suspect.”

On the other hand, the opinion also says a provision within the bill (SB244) requiring women to get an ultrasound before an abortion is constitutionally defensible.

The so-called “heartbeat bill,” sponsored by Sen. Mae Beaves, R-Mount Juliet, and Rep. Micah Van Huss of Jonesborough, runs counter to past federal court decisions, says the opinion, citing rulings against similar laws in Arkansas and North Dakota.

The full opinion is HERE.

With President Trump, sponsors of bills broadening TN abortion ban optimistic about passage, court challenges

State Rep.  Micah Van Huss has filed a bill (HB108) that would prohibit abortions when a fetal heartbeat can be detected, typically around the eighth week of pregnancy, while Rep. Terry Lynn Weaver is sponsoring a bill (HB101) that would prohibit abortions after 20 weeks.

Both bills would violate current abortion rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court, but Van Huss, R-Gray, tells the Johnson City Press that those rulings can change with President Donald Trump appointing new justices for approval of a Republican-controlled Congress.

Van Huss said Thursday that the point during gestation in which a heartbeat can be detected is the earliest markable point in pregnancy, usually between six and 12 weeks, but at an average of eight.

“It’s quite a jump,” he said of the proposed change from the state’s current criminal abortion statute, which sets the threshold at the point of viability of the fetus, which is normally between 24 and 26 weeks.

“If enacted, it will eliminate about 90 percent of abortions in the state, and it goes in tandem with my belief that unborn children should have the right to life,” he said.

…Van Huss said he’s banking on newly elected President Donald Trump to appoint a pro-life justice to the Supreme Court, which may be asked to consider early abortion bills.

“I can’t say whether or not I expect it to go to the Supreme Court, it’s not the intention of the bill,” he said. “But if it does go to the Supreme Court, I would hope they would rule to protect life.”

Weaver, R-Lancaster, had a similar bill last year, but never pushed for a vote in a House subcommittee when it appeared likely to fail. She tells The Tennessean things seem different this year.

“I think the climate and the culture, the pendulum is swinging…It’s the right thing to do…”There’s a time and a season for everything… People are understanding, our culture is changing. These are individual babies.”

Also from The Tennessean:

“None of this is about protecting the health and safety of women,” said Jeff Teague, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Middle & Eastern Tennessee.

“Given the results of the election and the promise of the president to appoint justices who are going to be hostile to Roe, I think it is part of nationwide strategy to do everything possible to get cases back before the Supreme Court to overturn that decision to make abortion illegal and ban it in this country.”


Maury County jail inmate, denied abortion, sues sheriff

A lawsuit seeking $1.5 million in damages has been filed in Nashville against Maury County’s sheriff by a woman who says she was denied the right to have an abortion while in jail, reports The Tennessean.

The woman, Kei’Choura Cathey, was not released until it was too late for the procedure and had the child in April, the court filing says. Her lawsuit alleges Maury County Sheriff Bucky Rowland illegally denied her access to an abortion, which the nation’s top court has protected as a woman’s right for decades.

… Cathey, also 29, was arrested in July 2015 on robbery and murder conspiracy charges and found out weeks later she was pregnant, according to the lawsuit. Columbia police records say she and three others lured Javontay Garrett to a home to steal drugs and money and then fatally shot him.


Weeks later Cathey told Rowland, via her lawyer, that she wanted to have an abortion, but Rowland responded that he would not provide funding or transportation for the procedure, the lawsuit states. Rowland said that would not happen unless the abortion was “medically necessary to save the mother’s life or the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest,” according to the lawsuit.

… The case was filed earlier this month in federal court in Nashville. It argues that the sheriff’s denial, and his failure to have department policies that allowed access to abortions, inflicted cruel and unusual punishment on Cathey in violation of her Eighth Amendment rights. It also says Cathey’s civil rights and 14th Amendment rights to due process were violated.

Blackburn-chaired Republican abortion investigators issue final report

Republicans on a congressional panel investigating the medical and business practices of abortion providers are calling on the federal government to defund Planned Parenthood and limit the use of fetal tissue for scientific research, reports Michael Collins.

In their final 471-page report, made public Wednesday, Republicans who make up a majority on the 14-member panel made nearly two dozen recommendations that they argued would protect women and unborn children while allowing scientific access to human fetal tissue when warranted.
“It is my hope that our recommendations will result in some necessary changes within both the abortion and fetal tissue procurement industries,” said the panel’s chairwoman, Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn.
But the panel’s Democrats blasted the report as flawed and charged it had been drafted in secret without any input from them.
“The panel’s so-called ‘final report’ is illegitimate,” said its top Democrat, Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois.
Schakowsky said the panel “leaves behind a legacy of lies, intimidation and procedural misconduct” and will be remembered “like the House Un-American Activities Committee and McCarthy hearings for its excesses and abuses of power.”
The report brings to a close the work of the panel, formally known as the House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, which spent the past year and more than $1.5 million investigating how abortion providers handle fetal tissue.
… Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., a member of the panel, said the investigation showed the abortion industry is driven by profit and “unconcerned by matters of basic ethics.”
“The findings of this panel should incense all people of conscience,” Black said.

House votes expanded funding for Blackburn’s fetal tissue investigation

The U.S. House voted 234-181 Thursday to provide another $800,000 in  funding for a special House panel investigating the medical and business practices of abortion providers, chaired by Tennessee Republican Rep. Marsha Black burn, reports Michael Collins. The  vote came over howls of protest from Democrats who argued the panel should be shut down for good.

The panel has spent the past year looking into how abortion providers handle fetal tissue. The additional funding doubles the panel’s previously approved budget and puts it on track to spend more than $1.5 million by the end of the year.

Republicans said the additional funding is needed for the 14-member panel to complete its work. But Democrats said the panel continues to waste taxpayer dollars by chasing down baseless allegations against abortion providers and medical researchers while putting the lives of women and doctors at risk.

“Instead of funding it, let’s be done with this once and for all,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, the panel’s top Democrat, who charged the investigation was “built on a pack of lies perpetuated by anti-abortion extremists.”

… “Evidence we have uncovered reveals that the unethical and potentially unlawful practices of some bad actors may be putting important research at risk,” Blackburn said. “Considering all that our panel has identified, despite having barely a year to conduct this investigation, it is now up to us to build on this work, to hold our government accountable, and to stop these affronts to human dignity.”