NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — After decades of fighting for it, anti-abortion groups celebrated Tennessee’s new abortion ban Thursday, suggested they will continue to fight for it and implied their work isn’t over.
On the other side, politicians and groups who support abortion access say they are trying to add exceptions to the law and make sure women seeking abortions in Tennessee still have options.
But all sides believe they are on the right side of history.
Democratic Rep. Gloria Johnson said her Republican colleagues may not have thought this trigger law all the way through and may come to regret it.
“The vast majority of Tennesseans believe in abortions in some situations. We may not all agree on when and where you know all of those terms,” she said.
However, Gov. Bill Lee and fellow Republicans celebrated the law going into effect.
“I think it’s a really hopeful day for America,” said Gov. Lee.
When asked what other abortion-related measures he may be considering for the upcoming legislative session, Gov. Lee said he is focusing on the law they have right now.
“The focus is on implementing the law as it is in place, so implementing that is the priority now. We are not having discussions to making any changes to that,” he said Thursday.
Yet a focus on implementation doesn’t mean the anti-abortion movement in Tennessee is declaring the battle done and won. Tennessee Right to Life President Stacy Dunn said they are still working on their next steps.
“We have not gotten our 2023 priorities for legislation finalized yet but we certainly want to be working to keep our law in place and protecting all children from abortion in our state,” she said.
As for how her group would respond to Johnson and her Democratic colleagues trying to add exceptions for abortions performed as a result of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother, Dunn said certain scenarios are being discussed with their legal counsel. But, they stand by the legislation as it is.
“The affirmative defense is what we passed and what we are for,” Dunn said, referring to a part of the law that offers doctors who perform an abortion to save the life of the mother a legal defense but not full protection from facing time in prison.
Pro-abortion politicians and activists say they want to take quick action to protect women, but admit options are limited.
“Clearly, with a super minority we cannot call a special session,” Rep. Johnson said. “I definitely think there should be a special session to address this right now. We’ve got physicians that are concerned because what they are saying is they are going up against their oath to care for people and that’s what the law says.”
Members of the Nashville City Council say they are going to propose legislation to assist women who want to go out of state to get an abortion and provide “comprehensive” sex education.
While Dunn did not explicitly say Right to Life would oppose moves to financially support women who want to seek an abortion out of state, she spoke against it.
“Common sense tells us that when a workplace and employer offers, provides aid and monetary aid for a woman to abort her child that that can quickly turn to coercion so we certainly have an interest in making sure that women are protected from being coerced into aborting their child by their employer,” Dunn said.
Johnson says, in the meantime, she is hearing from women across the state considering leaving Tennessee because they are trying to get pregnant while having some known health risks and fear they’ll be imprisoned if they need to make a difficult decision to abort for their safety or the fetus.
“People are saying, ‘Well, maybe we can fix some things in the next session.’ How many women will die? How many young not even teenage girls are going to be pregnant and be forced to carry a child? How many lives are going to be at risk before they can pass a bill in February or March of next year?” she said.
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As of Thursday in Tennessee, any abortion after fertilization is illegal, doctors who perform an abortion to save the life of a mother can be charged with a felony while having a defense to use at trial, the use of telemedicine to get an abortion pill is illegal and sex education cannot be taught by someone who has performed an abortion.