right to life

New TNJ edition alert: McNally succession moves, abortion exceptions, and the Slashville challenge

Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) presides on the Senate floor on March 13, 2023. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The latest print edition of The Tennessee Journal is out. Here is what’s in it:

— Calling all pretenders: Succession talk fueled by McNally scandal.

— Legislative roundup: Abortion, campaign finance, and the light at the end of the (session) tunnel.

— Slashville: Nashville sues to halt legislature’s move to cut Metro Council in half.

Also: Flipping the order of Brian Kelsey’s sentencing hearing, Andy Ogles’ ongoing résumé problems, Tim Rudd’s parking garage dreams, and a flooded Capitol complex.

As always, access the your copy of the TNJ here.

Or subscribe here.

Right to Life announces support for rival update to abortion law

Sen. Richard Briggs (R-Knoxville) attends a floor session on March 6, 2023. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The state chapter of Right to Life is speaking out in support of an amended version of a bill by Sen. Ken Yager (R-Kingston) and Rep. Esther Helton-Haynes (R-East Ridge) stating that treatments of ectopic pregnancies and miscarriages don’t violate the Tennessee’s sweeping abortion ban. Yager’s bill is different than the measure advanced by House Republican leaders and Sen. Richard Briggs (R-Knoxville) that has been vocally opposed by the anti-abortion group.

Here’s the release from Tennessee Right to Life:

NASHVILLE — Tennessee Right to Life is in support of Senate Bill 983 sponsored by Senator Yager as amended by Amendment #005051. We have maintained throughout this session that we would work with legislators to clarify the Human Life Protection Act without weakening it, and that is what this amendment does. It would explicitly clarify that treatments of ectopic pregnancy and miscarriages are in no way considered criminal abortions under the Human Life Protection Act, and it would change the affirmative defense to an exception for those times when the mother’s life is in danger.

Furthermore, by using an objective standard, it assuages EMTALA concerns by the Attorney General while also ensuring proper care is given to both the mother and the baby.

As opposed to other bills that have been filed and/or presented this year, the clear and succinct language in this amended legislation helps doctors and patients without creating unnecessary exceptions or deleting large sections of pro-life laws in the Tennessee Code. Pro-life legislators and pro-life Tennesseans can be confident that these changes will not weaken the intent of the legislation that was passed in 2019 to protect the right to life of all unborn children in our state.

Tennessee Right to Life would like thank Governor Lee, Lieutenant Governor McNally, and Senator Yager for working with us and pro-life legislators to ensure the best possible clarifying language for the amendment to this bill. We thank them for standing with us in defense of the Human Life Protection Act and for believing, as we do, that clarification is possible without weakening the law. We are hopeful that House members will join in support of the amended version of SB983.

This amended language will protect the integrity of the Human Life Protection Act and allow Tennessee law to continue to protect our most vulnerable citizens. We encourage members of the General Assembly to support this legislation.

New TNJ edition alert: Sexton defends members against ‘intimidation’ tactics

House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) presides first day of the legislative session in Nashville on Jan. 10, 2023. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The latest print edition of The Tennessee Journal is out. Here is what’s in it:

— Sexton lowers boom on aggressive Right to Life lobbying stance

— Evaluating the vagaries of the lawmaker ratings game.

— Wait until next year? Call for opting out federal education money will take some more work.

— AG leaves few multi-state initiatives unjoined, but was quick to back off on defending state gun law.

Also: Compromise appears to be in the works to tone down legislature’s fight with Nashville, Torrey Harris gets a reprieve from his domestic violence and theft charges, Brent Taylor’s trial balloons, and House committee chairs give bill opponents the red card.

As always, access the your copy of the TNJ here.

Or subscribe here.

Tennessee Medical Association reiterates support for Sen. Briggs following Right to Life’s disavowal

Sens. Ken Yager (R-Kingston), left, and Richard Briggs (R-Knoxville), attend a hearing in Nashville on Jan. 30, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The Tennessee Medical Association is doubling down on its support of state Sen. Richard Briggs after the state chapter of Right to Life announced it was revoking its endorsement of the Knoxville Republican over his concerns about a new sweeping abortion ban.

Briggs, a physician, in a recent interview with ProPublica took issue with a provision of the law requiring a doctor to mount an “affirmative defense” about why the termination of a pregnancy was necessary to save the life of the mother.

“The defendant is guilty until he can prove that he’s not guilty,” Briggs told the publication. “In my opinion, that is a very bad position to put the doctors in — why should this doctor have to pay his own legal bills for saving a woman’s life?”

TMA Chair Lee Berkenstock of Memphis and the group’s president, Edward Capparelli of Oneida, issued a statement saying Briggs’s position reflects a recognition of the ”unintended consequences” of the law.

“The affirmative defense in place for physicians caring for affected patients is merely a legal maneuver that undermines the legislative intent of the law. It places doctors in the unconscionable position of having to choose between saving a patient’s life or committing a felony,” according to the TMA statement. ”Regrettably, this stance has subjected Sen. Briggs to political retribution and attempts to disparage his character.

Here’s the full release from the TMA:

“The Tennessee Medical Association (TMA) reiterates its support for Tennessee state Sen. Richard Briggs, MD, a longstanding leader and member within our organization, for his recent comments on behalf of physicians, women, and families in the state.

Like many elected officials, Sen. Briggs has aligned his position with that of his constituents, Tennesseans who recognize the unintended consequences of the state’s recently enacted abortion ‘trigger’ law and want it amended.

As written, the law contains no legal exceptions—not even for the life and health of the mother. Sen. Briggs has reasonably indicated he would like to see the law offer clear exceptions when the mother’s life or health are at risk, for non-survivable fetal anomalies, and rape and incest.

The affirmative defense in place for physicians caring for affected patients is merely a legal maneuver that undermines the legislative intent of the law. It places doctors in the unconscionable position of having to choose between saving a patient’s life or committing a felony.

Regrettably, this stance has subjected Sen. Briggs to political retribution and attempts to disparage his character.

Sen. Briggs’ background is one of service. Previously a Knox County commissioner, he has represented Tennesseans in the legislature since 2014 and the Knoxville community as a respected heart and lung surgeon for over 40 years.

He has also heroically served our country. A retired Army colonel with a more than 30-year military career, he served the United States as a combat trauma surgeon during Operation Desert Storm and was awarded the Bronze Star. In recent years, he completed combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq as a senior war trauma surgeon caring for wounded American troops.

Given Sen. Briggs’ experiences, his real-world perspective and leadership role in this conversation is unique. His counsel around this complex issue should be valued and sought after rather than dismissed. TMA invites other members of the Tennessee General Assembly to disregard similar efforts from outside groups and protect families by joining Sen. Briggs and a majority of Tennesseans in making needed changes to this law.”

Lee Berkenstock, MD, Memphis

Chair, Board of Trustees, Tennessee Medical Association

Edward Capparelli, MD, Oneida

President, Tennessee Medical Association

Right to Life revokes endorsement of recently re-elected Sen. Briggs

Senators reach to their voting buttons during a floor session on March 16, 2020. Seated from left are Republican Sens. Mark Pody of Lebanon, Paul Rose of Covington, Richard Briggs of Knoxville, Janice Bowling of Tullahoma, and Paul Bailey of Sparta. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Tennessee Right to Life’s PAC says it is revoking its endorsement of state Sen. Richard Briggs (R-Knoxville) over his recent comments questioning a sweeping abortion ban enacted in the state. Briggs was elected to a third four-year term last month.

The anti-abortion group’s move came as a poll by Vanderbilt University showed broad support for including exceptions for rape, incest, and the life of the mother.

Briggs, a physician, in a recent interview with ProPublica took issue with a provision of the state law requiring a doctor to mount an “affirmative” defense about why the termination of a pregnancy was necessary to save the life of the mother.

“Here, the defendant is guilty until he can prove that he’s not guilty,” Briggs told the publication. “In my opinion, that is a very bad position to put the doctors in — why should this doctor have to pay his own legal bills for saving a woman’s life?”

Here’s the release from Tennessee Right to Life.

Knoxville, TN – Yesterday, the Tennessee Right to Life Political Action Committee (PAC) notified State Senator Richard Briggs, of Knox County, that it was revoking his endorsement due to his public reversal of political stances which he pledged earlier this year during his respective contested primary and general election campaigns. The organization made the rare move because of public comments the Senator has made about the Human Life Protection Act, which was passed in 2019 and went into effect after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.   

“Senator Briggs pledged to us in writing that he would protect unborn children by protecting the Human Life Protection Act from hostile amendments. Despite making similar pledges to our legislative liaison after the Dobbs decision was issued, Senator Briggs now claims that he does not support the HLPA because he never believed it would be enacted because he never believed Roe v. Wade would be overturned,” said former State Representative and Tennessee Right to Life PAC President Roger Kane.

The voters of the 7th Senate District deserve to know the truth. Senator Briggs ensured support of the law on June 14, which was a time when the Dobbs decision had been leaked and, therefore, the overturning of Roe seemed like a probability rather than a distant dream.

The Tennessee Right to Life PAC endorses candidates who pledge to support legislation that will protect our most vulnerable citizens and to defend existing protections from future legislative attacks.  The PAC did its due diligence in the endorsement process and received assurance from Senator Briggs of his continued support of the HLPA, which he voted for and even co-sponsored in 2019. 

“The candidate endorsement process only works if those answering the questions are honest and forthright. Obviously, Senator Briggs was not honest in his answers and can no longer be trusted by the voters,” said Kane.   

“I applaud the PAC’s decision to revoke Senator Briggs’ endorsement,” said Will Brewer, Director of Government Relations for Tennessee Right to Life. “While I respect disagreements from trusted colleagues, Senator Briggs’ mass publicity tour is more than a mere disagreement. Once his election was over and he had secured the political benefit of the PAC’s endorsement, he reversed course on his views. He has engaged in a media tour to justify his actions and has even posed for photo shoots to make himself the headline for hostile articles set out to tear down the Human Life Protection Act. His constituents deserve better than a legislator who only votes for legislation because he never believes it will come to fruition and then reverses his philosophy only when it is least consequential,” said Brewer.

“The Human Life Protection Act is doing exactly what members of the General Assembly intended – saving an estimated 900 lives every month in our state. We are grateful to all the members who voted for the legislation and now stand behind that vote. That is what integrity looks like. We hope Senator Briggs will work to regain our trust and use his medical expertise to recognize the unborn child as a patient deserving of care,” said Kane. 

Tennessee reaction to Supreme Court overturning Roe v Wade

Friday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down the nearly 50-year-old Roe v. Wade decision set off shockwaves around the country. Here is some reaction in Tennessee:

Today’s landmark Supreme Court decision marks the beginning of a hopeful, new chapter for our country. After years of heartfelt prayer and thoughtful policy, America has an historic opportunity to support women, children and strong families while reconciling the pain and loss caused by Roe v. Wade. We have spent years preparing for the possibility that authority would return to the states, and Tennessee’s laws will provide the maximum possible protection for both mother and child. In the coming days, we will address the full impacts of this decision for Tennessee. — Gov. Bill Lee.

For too long, abortion policy in this nation has been controlled by the federal judiciary. Now, once again, the voters of the individual states will have the ability to make policy through democratic means. In Tennessee, the voters have already made their views known through the passage of a constitutional amendment that makes clear that no right to abortion is contained in our constitution. With passage of our trigger law and a comprehensive heartbeat bill, Tennessee’s General Assembly has been well prepared for this day. — State Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge).

This is a victory for democracy. For the first time in almost 50 years, the voters and their elected representatives will have control over this issue rather than unelected judges, and we applaud that. This decision will allow our Tennessee laws to reflect our Tennessee values that unborn children should be protected by law and that every person deserves the right to be born. – Tennessee Right to Life President Stacy Dunn.

This decision is a direct assault on the rights of Tennesseans. The Court’s interpretation of the constitution on this issue is flawed and a direct insertion of political activism on the highest court in the land. This decision made by a conservative majority on the court, will empower a radical majority serving in state legislatures across the country. Politicians will be even more emboldened by this decision to impose their most restrictive views on us. Today, an essential and lifesaving freedom was discarded by a court installed to protect it. – Tennessee Democratic Party Chair Hendrell Remus.

Today’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling ends a 50-year-long national tragedy that deprived 63 million innocent human beings of life. For decades, Republicans have fought to advance and uphold the pro-life and pro-family values held by an overwhelming majority of Tennesseans. Today, we celebrate a momentous victory. We applaud the justices for their wisdom in recognizing a vulnerable baby still in its mother’s womb is a precious life worthy of protection. Tennessee House Republicans continue our unwavering commitment to fight for families and defend the defenseless. – State House Majority Leader William Lamberth (R-Portland).

The Supreme Court’s unprecedented and unconscionable decision today rolls the clock back nearly 50 years on our fundamental rights, forcing anyone who becomes pregnant in Tennessee into second class status. And politicians won’t stop here. The same anti-abortion extremists seeking to control the bodies of pregnant people are coming for our right to access birth control and gender-affirming care, marry who we love, and vote,” ACLU of Tennessee Executive Director Hedy Weinberg.

I believe we have a moral duty to protect unborn children who cannot protect themselves. Today is a consequential day, not only for those who believe that all life is a precious gift, but also for American democracy and the rule of law. This decision doesn’t ban abortion—it simply returns decision-making on abortion to the people. That’s how it should be in a republic—matters not addressed by the Constitution should be decided by the people through their elected representatives, not by nine unelected judges in Washington, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Nashville).

Having worked alongside Tennesseans to protect the innocent lives of unborn children for years, I applaud today’s Supreme Court ruling. Despite false claims from the left, this decision will not ban abortion. Instead, it returns the decision to the states and empowers state legislatures with more flexibility to craft policy through the democratic process. – U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Brentwood).

Abortion is a complicated and very personal decision. And I personally believe that we don’t spend enough time on finding solutions to the reasons why some people have to have abortions. However, this ruling means that in Tennessee, all abortions will be criminalized, including for victims of rape and incest. Women should have the right to make their own, personal healthcare decisions. This is an unfortunate decision based on politics instead of established law and, according to the vast majority of polls, the will of people. — State House Minority Leader Karen Camper (D-Memphis).

Hagerty gets Right to Life endorsement

Republican U.S. Senate nominee Bill Hagerty appears at a Republican event in Franklin on Aug. 8, 2020 (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The National Right to Life Committee has endorsed U.S. Senate candidate Bill Hagerty following his Republican primary win last week. The move comes as a bit of a surprise because Hagerty has expressed support for keeping access to abortions to women who are victims of incest or rape and for mothers whose pregnancies put their lives in danger. A similar position by U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn has long kept the Brentwood Republican from gaining the Right to Life endorsement.

Here’s the release from the Hagerty campaign:

Nashville, TN — Today, Bill Hagerty, Republican nominee for U.S. Senate, announced the National Right to Life Committee endorsed Hagerty to serve in the U.S. Senate.

“As a Christian conservative and a father of four children, I know just how precious the right to life is, and I am humbled to have the support of the National Right to Life Committee,” said Bill Hagerty. “Radical Democrats, led by Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, and Joe Biden, seek to implement their socialist agenda that includes abortion funded by taxpayers for any reason up to and even after the moment of birth. As your Senator, I will be a voice for the voiceless, fight for pro-life legislation including the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, and work to defund Planned Parenthood once and for all.”

“National Right to Life is pleased to endorse Bill Hagerty for election to the U.S. Senate, to represent the state of Tennessee,” said Carol Tobias, National Right to Life Committee President. “Bill is a strong advocate for life. All Tennessee voters who are concerned with the right to life and with the protection of the most vulnerable members of the human family should vote to send Bill to the Senate, so that he can work to advance vital pro-life public policies.”

National Right To Life Committee joins the Susan B. Anthony List in supporting Bill Hagerty for Senate.


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