Heartbeat abortion ban passes subcommittee, won't exempt rape victims

Zach Vance • Feb 20, 2019 at 11:52 PM

Responding to a question posed by a Democratic state lawmaker, state Rep. Micah Van Huss, R-Jonesborough, told the House Public Health Subcommittee Wednesday that he believes “killing a baby, no matter its age, is evil.”

Even if that baby was conceived during a rape, Van Huss later told the subcommittee.

“I do not believe that the justice for the sins of the father or mother should be carried out on an innocent child,” Van Huss said.

Van Huss’ signature bill to ban all abortions from the point a fetal heartbeat is detected advanced through the subcommittee by a voice vote. Rep. Vincent Dixie, D-Nashville, recorded the only “No” vote of the subcommittee’s seven members. Rep. Larry Miller, D-Memphis, requested to be recorded as “present, not voting.”

On average, according to Van Huss, a fetal heartbeat can be detected as early as 6.5 weeks into a pregnancy.

Based on discussions with several women, Dixie said most women who are not trying to get pregnant do not find out they are pregnant until roughly eight weeks.

“I think they should have their choice,” Dixie said.

This year’s version of the Heartbeat bill is different on several fronts, including the actual language of the bill.

Van Huss amended the original version of the bill by defining a “viable pregnancy,” as opposed to a “viable fetus.”

The way the Heartbeat Bill currently reads, it would change the state’s way of defining “viability” to detecting the presence of a fetal heartbeat. Currently, the state defines viability as when an unborn child is capable of surviving outside the womb, with or without medical assistance.

If the bill becomes law, doctors who perform abortions when a pregnancy is deemed “viable,” could be charged with a Class C felony, which carries between three and 15 years in jail and a $10,000 fine.

Following the detection of a heartbeat, abortions could only be performed during medical emergencies when the mother’s life is at risk, Van Huss said.

When Miller asked Van Huss if he thought the current version of the bill would be ruled unconstitutional, Van Huss replied, “In this bill, we’re defining a viable pregnancy. I’ve never heard a Supreme Court case or Appellate Court case argue what a viable pregnancy is. So that’s what we’re doing here, and I think it’s absolutely constitutional.”

Miller then asked subcommittee staff attorney Matthew King his opinion on the constitutionality of Van Huss’ proposal.

“My understanding is that the bill would essentially change a point at which we determine viability and define viability. Under current federal law, according to case law, viability is defined not by the method of detecting a fetal heartbeat. This would change that. So this would vary from the current standard of viability that is under current federal law,” King said.

“Although it is not the task of our office to deem something to be constitutional or unconstitutional — a court does that — it would be, I believe accurate to say, that it may be subject to constitutional scrutiny. It may be subject on those grounds.”

Miller also asked Van Huss what he thought a pregnant woman, determined to get an abortion, would do once she was turned away by a doctor.

“I think if she seriously wants that abortion, she’s going to find a way to have it. And (then) her health is really in serious peril if she decides to go to any unhealthy method of having that abortion performed. That’s my opinion. What do you think?” Miller asked.

Van Huss responded, saying “Unhealthy abortion, I would call it unhealthy murder. I just think it’s wrong either way.”

With 50, or more than half of the state House of Representatives signed on as cosponsors of the Heartbeat bill, Van Huss said he feels more confident about the legislation passing this year, as compared to years past, especially considering the bill has received support from House Speaker Glen Casada, Lt. Gov. Randy McNally and Gov. Bill Lee.

“The last two years, I felt like I was struggling against the briars, you know, just struggling and trudging on,” Van Huss said. “This year, it just feels totally different. I feel like God has paved the path forward.”

The House Health Committee will hear the Heartbeat Bill on Tuesday morning.

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