KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Tennessee’s Human Life Protection Act, which many call the abortion “trigger law,” is now in effect making it illegal for any provider to perform an abortion and what many legal experts say is regardless of any circumstances.
“I don’t see it as lying to me,” Representative Gloria Johnson (TN-13) said. “I see it as lying to every person in the state of Tennessee. ‘There is an exception for the life of the mother,’ and that is not true. It is a lie.”
Tennessee’s Human Life Protection Act was passed by lawmakers in 2019. Johnson voted “no” every time the bill was brought to the house floor.
“There is no exception in this bill. As of tomorrow, physicians can be, will be charged with a felony for performing an abortion in the case of rape, in the case of incest, human trafficking, and life of the mother,” she said.
The trigger law does provide an “affirmative defense,” however that will not prevent abortion providers from being prosecuted. Under the statute, a defendant would have to provide a lot of evidence proving an abortion was necessary to save the life of the woman or prevent serious injury.
“I can understand why somebody may be against abortion but don’t tell me your pro-life,” Johnson said. “If you were pro-life, you would consider the life of the woman who was pregnant and the life of the 10-year-old girl you are forcing to carry the child that’s the result of a rape or incest.”
According to Johnson, more than 80 percent of Tennesseans are in support of some form of abortion access. Her fellow Democrat state representative from District 15, Sam McKenzie, feels the same way.
“It’s a time of reflection,” McKenzie said. “It’s a time for the state of Tennessee to say, ‘how do we want to treat our citizens?’ And I would think there will be some fairness brought out in the coming years over this trigger law. It was invoked prior to me taking the seat in general assembly but I would hope we fix this and do something that’s a lot more humane than what’s on the books right now.”
“I’m going to make sure that at least I have available a bill that codifies Roe,” Johnson said. “A bill that makes an exception for rape and incest, a bill that makes an exception for the life of the mother, and a bill that makes sure we don’t make doctors felons.”
Political Scientist Mark O’Gorman questions if a Tennessee woman will be in violation of the law if she crosses state lines.
“‘Can she literally be put into court because she violated Tennessee law?'” O’Gorman said. “We don’t know but I do know that’s going to be one of a dozen if not hundreds of different types of situations where suddenly we have to think about criminal law because it’s an area we haven’t gotten to.”
Under the trigger law, performing an abortion is a Class C felony which includes crimes like robbery and aggravated assault. They carry a maximum sentence of 15 years.