NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — The controversial bill that would add narrow exemptions to the state’s abortion law passed the Tennessee Senate, setting the bill up for Gov. Bill Lee’s signature and the law going into immediate effect.
The bill exempts ectopic pregnancies and molar pregnancies from the criminal abortion statute that went into effect when the United States Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
Four different Senate Democrats attempted to introduce amendments to add further exemptions, including protections for victims of rape and incest and protections for minors who are victims of sexual assault or incest.
“This bill as written fails to provide clarity our doctors are begging for,” Sen. London Lamar of Memphis said during the session.
Lamar brought an amendment that would rewrite the bill entirely using language originally drafted by the Republican majority, she said, and would “give the doctors the tools to do their job.”
“The majority of Tennesseans want this,” she added on the floor.
Sen. Jeff Yarbro of Nashville attempted to reinsert “good faith” language into the bill instead of “reasonable judgment” language in the bill currently, while both Sens. Charlane Oliver of Nashville and Raumesh Akbari of Memphis brought amendments protecting adults and minors from criminal penalties who seek abortions for pregnancies that result from rape or incest.
Oliver said her amendment was personal for her, as she was sexually assaulted in high school. Her emotional testimony concluded by asking her colleagues, “What are we doing to the quality of life to the women who have to carry their rapist’s baby?”
While her amendment failed, it did get the support of three Republicans: Sens. Frank Niceley (R—Strawberry Plains), Art Swann (R—Maryville) and Page Walley (R—Savannah).
Akbari had similar Republican additions for her amendment, which specifically exempted any minors who were victims of rape, aggravated rape, especially aggravated rape, rape of a child, especially aggravated rape of a child, and incest.
“I want you to image a child who is grappling with the severe pain, trauma, disrespect, the crime of being sexually assaulted and that baby having a child in their womb and having to carry it to term,” she said to her colleagues.
Both Swann and Walley also joined the Democrats on Akbari’s amendment, though it ultimately failed.
The bill ultimately passed 26-1, with Yarbro casting the lone “no” vote. All other Democrats were “Present Not Voting.”
Yarbro later explained his “No” vote on Twitter, saying the legislation “made a handful of improvements on Tennessee’s criminalization of abortion,” but ultimately would “undermine the legal position of doctors trying to provide life-saving care to women” in the state.
“But I do appreciate & respect my colleagues who tried to amend the bill and voted present, given the modest improvements,” he said. “They’re fighting for the law to be better.”