NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Gov. Bill Lee announced comprehensive anti-abortion legislation on Thursday that would include a ban on abortion once a heartbeat can be detected.
Gov. Lee spoke in front of members of the Legislature, including Lt. Governor Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge), before noon. Lee said the bill is based on “the need to protect the most vulnerable in our society.”
“I believe that every human life is precious, and we have a responsibility to protect it,” Lee said. “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.”
The measure includes a requirement to show an ultrasound to a woman seeking an abortion and would ban an abortion if a doctor believes it is motivated by the health, sex, disability or race of the fetus.
McNally questioned a similar heartbeat bill last year. He questioned the likelihood of an expensive court battle but the newly written legislation is one that he says he supports “wholeheartedly and without reservation.”
This year’s law includes a “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,” McNally said. “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.”
House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) applauded the legislation.
“The General Assembly has been committed to making Tennessee a very strong pro-life state over the last decade,” Sexton said. “Obviously, we are very supportive and appreciative of the Governor’s dedication to pro-life principles.
“I know members of the House and the chairmen are eager to review the proposed language and continue their strong support for life.”
Shortly after the governor’s announcement, Tennessee Democratic Chair Mary Mancini said “no politician should be in the middle of the decision to end a pregnancy, choose adoption, or raise a child.”
“This is always a heart-wrenching decision and must be left to a woman, her family and her faith, in consultation with her doctor or health care provider,” Mancini said.
She suggested that Republicans work with Democrats to work on age-appropriate reproductive health education, including teaching abstinence, and access to affordable contraceptives and affordable reproductive health.
Local lawmakers react to proposed anti-abortion bill
Rep. Rick Staples (D-Knoxville) said he is not in favor of the bill.
He said the government serves people, it doesn’t control them.
“This is a mandate to put into law to dictate the choices that a woman has for her own body; as if the free citizens that happen to be women in the state of Tennessee, do not have the where-with-all, the knowledge, or character to decide what’s best for themselves,” Staples said.
Responding to the governor’s claims that the bill would uphold in court, Staples said that he believes it’s a violation of women’s civil rights.
Representative Jason Zachary (R- Knoxville) said that he is excited and hopeful for the bill.
He said it’s going to be the most comprehensive anti-abortion bill in the nation, because it takes similar laws in other states, uses what works and makes them stronger.
Zachary said he knows firsthand why abortions due to a baby’s disabilities should be prohibited: He has a family member with disabilities.
“I believe that the Lord has a unique plan for every one of us, and those with disabilities or health challenges or concerns; I mean the reality is, sometimes the doctors are wrong, many times the doctor’s wrong,” Zachary said.
Senator Becky Duncan Massey (R-Knoxville) said she agrees with the portion of the bill that has been laid out so far, and that she usually agrees with any anti-abortion legislation.
“We need to protect life, now, whether it’s a baby in the womb, or it’s people with intellectual disabilities, or our seniors. I believe in protecting life,” Massey said.
Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville) tweeted about the proposed bill, mentioning that every person standing at the podium for the announcement was a man.
Johnson, similar to what Staples said, believes that taking away a woman’s right to have “agency over her body” declared women are not equal.
Senator Ken Yager (R-Kingston) also spoke on Twitter, posting a video about his thoughts on the bill.
Yager said he believes the bill will uphold in court and that it will be the most comprehensive anti-abortion bill in the nation.
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