Legislators to debate changes to 'fetal heartbeat' bill

Robert Houk • Jan 12, 2020 at 9:00 AM

Tennessee lawmakers are expected to continue a legal debate on legislation to ban most abortions in Tennessee when they return to work later this week.

Last year, members of the state House of Representatives approved legislation to prohibit abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, usually about six weeks into a pregnancy. That bill, which Gov. Bill Lee promised to sign if it reached his desk, stalled in the state Senate where Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, and other leaders said they feared its passage would result in a costly and losing legal battle for the state.

The Senate Judiciary Committee decided to study the legislation over the summer and return this year with a bill it hoped would withstand a constitutional challenge. Lawmakers also said they want a law in place to outlaw most abortions in Tennessee should the U.S. Supreme Court overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision.

Tennessee’s Right to Life has opposed the fetal heartbeat bill, sponsored by state Rep. Micah Van Huss, R-Jonesborough, saying it would only defend anti-abortion bills that can survive a legal challenge.

Adam Kleinheider, McNally’s director of communications, said last week the Senate speaker has “consistently expressed his reservations” regarding Senate Bill 1236.

“The most recent amendment does not assuage those concerns,” Kleinheider wrote in an email to the Press.

Earlier this month, Van Huss told the Press he hopes the Senate will “do the right thing” and approve amended legislation that would prohibit most abortions in Tennessee.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has amended the fetal heartbeat legislation to block abortions based on the confirmation of a pregnancy hormone that is detectable as early as 10 days from conception.

“We’ll see if it progresses,” said Van Huss, who is running for re-election this year. “Abolishing abortion in Tennessee is my No. 1 issue. “

State Sen. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, who is first vice chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he is confident something from that committee’s summer labors will be approved by the state General Assembly.

Lundberg, who is seeking re-election to the Senate’s 4th District seat this year, said the committee’s pro-life members believed the fetal heartbeat bill “looked good on paper, but would not have achieved its objectives.”

He said anything the state passes will “see a legal challenge,” and a number of heartbeat bills across the nation have been struck down by the courts.

“We’ve crafted legislation to take the issue back to when life begins,” Lundberg said.

The Senate Judiciary Committee’s amended 23-page bill states a “pregnancy is presumed to exist and be viable upon finding the presence of human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) using a test that is consistent with standard medical practice.”

It also says a pregnancy “is confirmed to be viable upon detection of a heartbeat in an unborn child using a test that is consistent with standard medical practice.”

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