Tennessee Legislature Passes One of the Most Restrictive Abortion Bans in the Country During Overnight Session

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (June 19, 2020) - Tennessee lawmakers were up until 3:15am ending this year’s legislative session by advancing an anti-abortion bill with some of the most severe restrictions in the United States, a move outraging several reproductive rights groups.

Both Democratic lawmakers and activists say they had been assured for weeks that the Senate would not consider the abortion measure this legislative session. The bill, backed by Governor Bill Lee, made its way to the floor after Senate leaders had promised only to consider coronavirus or budget-related items.

The bill bans abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, about 6 weeks into pregnancy. It also requires women or trans men seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound and have the doctor describe and display the image to them. The bill also requires that doctors inform people pursuing the procedure at drug-induced abortions may be halted halfway, which some doctors dispute.

“The Tennessee General Assembly’s passage of this dangerous, flatly unconstitutional bill is unacceptable. Lawmakers used this measure in the game of political maneuvering to pass the state budget - pushing it through without regard for the actual Tennesseans who will be denied access to the care they need, including abortion,” ACLU-TN Executive Director Hedy Weinberg responded to the vote. “Lack of access to abortion care particularly harms those struggling financially and those who already face significant barriers to health care, including people of color, people with limited incomes, rural people and young people. Politicians should not be deciding what is best for women and certainly not making reproductive health care decisions for them. As promised, we will see them in court.”

Opposing lawmakers sounding off as well:

“In the middle of the night our Republican super majority decided that women and their doctors can’t make decisions for their own bodies,” Senator Sara Kyle (D-Memphis) tweeted. “They passed an unconstitutional, extreme bill on abortion and I along with my other Dem colleagues voted NO!”

Representative John Ray Clemmons (D-Nashville)

“Not only did House GOP cut a budget deal with the Senate GOP to pass their constitutionally suspect ‘heartbeat bill’ after midnight, but they also snuck in their medically suspect ‘abortion reversal bill,’” tweeted Representative John Ray Clemmons (D-Nashville). “GOP attacks on women’s rights and access to healthcare continue in Tennessee day and night.”

Jeff Yarbro

“It’s a grotesque bargain that the legislature agreed to pass the most radical restructure of abortion in TN history in exchange for a handful of budgetary concessions,” Senator Jeff Yarbro (D-Nashville) tweeted. “And it’s just wrong and anti-democratic that we’re taking this up after midnight with no notice to anyone.”

Senator Brenda Gilmore weighed in, saying it makes no sense for the legislature to pass a law that will cost taxpayers millions of dollars defending in court when just days ago lawmakers rejected a small amount of funding to provide health coverage to new mothers.

“Comprehensive reproductive health care is essential to a woman’s health - and access to an abortion is part of that,” said Senator Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis). “There was no notice this bill would be heard. It was not something that was supposed to be handled in this session.”

This vote comes after both the Tennessee Senate and House have only been back in session for less than a month due to the coronavirus pandemic. State lawmakers failed to pass legislation that would have provided broad protections for businesses, schools and nursing homes against COVID-19 related lawsuits.

The Tennessee House of Representatives advanced a resolution congratulating Tennesseans “for clearly seeing that the mainstream media has sensationalized the reporting on COVID-19 in the service of political agendas.”

Kimberlee Kruesi and Jonathan Mattise with The Associated Press contributed information to this report.

This article has been supported by a grant from the Facebook Journalism Project for COVID-19 coverage.

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