Though a similar measure was struck down in 2017, a bill in the Tennessee legislature is seeking to make it illegal for a doctor to perform an abortion once a heartbeat is detected in a fetus.
Under the proposed law, physicians who do not test for a heartbeat would be charged with a misdemeanor. Performing an abortion when a heartbeat is present would be a Class C felony and the doctor performing the procedure would lose their medical license.
The bill’s sponsor, Republican Micah Van Huss said, “This is an issue that has been on my heart my whole life. I aim to save babies lives,” according to an Associated Press report.
Several Democratic legislators have voiced concerns over the measure, including that the bill does not include exclusions for cases of incest or rape.
Tennessee Right to Life, an anti-abortion nonprofit, was against Huss’ similar piece of legislation he introduced in the last legislative session. Georgia recently signed a similar bill into law, and states like North Dakota and Arkansas had similar laws struck down as unconstitutional after spending thousands of taxpayer dollars to defend them in court.
“Rather than focusing on unconstitutional legislation that would restrict access to safe and legal abortions, Tennessee’s legislators should focus on increasing health care access and laws that support comprehensive sexuality education,” said Ashley Coffield, president and CEO of the Planned Parenthood in Memphis.
Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, said in a statement that if the fetal heartbeat bill passes, the ACLU will file suit immediately.
“A woman should be able to make decisions about what is best for her health and her family in consultation with her doctor and her loved ones, without politicians interfering or trying to force her hand,” Weinberg said.
The bill passed first reading in the House on March 7, but would still need to pass through the state Senate to become law. The Senate is unlikely to take action on the bill — instead they may propose alternative legislation that might prove less constitutionally problematic.
Lt. Gov. Randy McNally told reporters at the end of March that the language of the bill as it stands leaves too much room for potential litigation.
"Just because there is a heartbeat detected doesn’t mean that you have a viable fetus," McNally said. "You can have a real low heart rate and you can have a heart rate that you can tell that something is wrong with the fetus. I think we’d be looking at things like that, that it would be a medical determination that at that point there is a viable fetus."
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