Despite unrest across the country, the fight for life continues as Tennessee’s heartbeat bill was recently signed into law, making abortion illegal after the preborn heartbeat is detected, which is about the sixth week of pregnancy.
In January, before the pandemic struck, Tennessee joined a growing number of states and passed its heartbeat bill. In addition to limiting abortion to the first six weeks of pregnancy, the bill had other stipulations, including that women seeking an abortion must be given the opportunity to view the ultrasound and an abortion cannot be completed on the basis of race, sex or a condition like Down syndrome or a prenatal diagnosis of an abnormality. A medical emergency would be the only exception.
Governor Bill Lee was emotional at a press conference after the bill was introduced in January. “Today is an important day for Tennessee. We know that when a mother views her unborn child and hears a heartbeat, hearts and minds are changed,” he said at the time.
Initially, Lt. Gov. Randy McNally was opposed to the bill, citing the recent failures of other heartbeat bills in courtrooms across the country. Though after the bill passed, he expressed his support for the legislation.
“The destination has always been clear,” McNally said. “The issue has been identifying the proper vehicle. We now have the proper vehicle. This comprehensive, tiered approach is our best chance of advancing the cause of life without sacrificing the gains we have made.”
That was January. Since then, the country’s been embroiled in a pandemic and political and cultural unrest. Tennessee was also hit with a particularly devastating tornado in March. Most thought that all legislation unrelated to the crises had been shelved for the year, but, in a somewhat surprising move, budget negotiations between the House and the Senate gave the bill new life.
On June 19, the bill passed in the Senate with some new amendments—these include that the abortionist must determine the age of the preborn baby and inform the mother, must explain the preborn’s location in the uterus and find the heartbeat, and must provide the patient with an explanation of the preborn’s dimensions and the external and internal body parts and organs that are visible. Abortion clinics are also required to post a sign telling women that they can reverse a medical/chemical abortion, also known as the abortion pill, or pay a $10,000 fine.
In response, Planned Parenthood and the ACLU filed a lawsuit.
Due to the poor reception of heartbeat bills in courthouses across the country, Tennessee has a failsafe measure. If the six-week ban is struck down by the court, which is likely given the legal gridlock that similar bills have experienced in other states, then other abortion bans at eight, 10, 12, 15, 18, 20, 21, 22, 23- and 24-weeks’ gestation will be automatically activated.
It’s an interesting strategy, and one that may provide some life-saving results. Each new abortion ban that’s activated reflects another barrier and another question to the court. At what point is a baby in the womb considered worthy of protection?
The case will likely be bogged down in litigation for many years, but it’s encouraging to see pro-life efforts that started at the beginning of the year continue despite a pandemic and societal unrest. Republicans in the Tennessee legislature are hopeful that this case will eventually make its way up to the Supreme Court.
Pray for Tennessee as it fights to protect preborn babies from the clutches of abortionists.
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