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Pro-Life Heartbeat Bill Clears Major Hurdle in TN, Advances for a Vote

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A bill that would ban most Tennessee women from obtaining abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected cleared a key hurdle Tuesday, advancing for a full House vote in the GOP-dominated legislature.

The move comes amid a national movement by pro-life lawmakers and activists who hope that President Donald Trump’s appointments to the Supreme Court will increase their chances of ending or severely restricting legal abortions.

Tennessee is among several states with pending bills to ban most abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, about six weeks into pregnancy.

The goal is to trigger a legal challenge to the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that established a nationwide right to abortion. Court rulings since then have determined states cannot place undue burdens on abortion before a fetus is viable — typically between 24 and 28 weeks.

“This is an issue that has been on my heart my whole life,” Rep. Micah Van Huss, a Republican sponsoring the bill, said during Tuesday’s hearing. “I aim to save babies’ lives.”

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The House Health Committee voted 15-4 to send the legislation to the House floor for a full vote, sparking heavy applause from supporters. Only Democratic members voted in opposition.

While the bill still has to clear the House floor and the Senate, it is expected to win support from Republicans. Furthermore, first-term Gov. Bill Lee has promised his support if the bill reaches his desk.

Advocates on both sides of the issue packed the room to watch lawmakers spar over possible legal challenges and discuss hypothetical situations of women being forced to carry a baby to term even in cases of rape or incest.

By the meeting’s close, many were breaking out in cheers and jeers in response to lawmakers’ comments.

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“I have three girls. I’ve raised them to be independent so no boy tells them what to do. Well, except for me,” said Democratic Rep. Darren Jernigan.

“But I’ve also said they’re in control of their bodies and it bothers me the government would tell them what to do and it bothers me the bill is likely unconstitutional.”

When asked if it would be acceptable for a 15-year-old student who was raped by her coach to be barred from having an abortion if she was past the six-week viability marker because a fetal heartbeat was detected, Van Huss simply said “yes.”

He responded similarly when asked if he agreed that the same ban should be in place in cases of incest.

“It is not up to me to determine someone else’s life,” Van Huss said.

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Critics of the bill predict enactment would trigger an immediate legal challenge, warning that an Iowa judge struck down a similar law last month. In Mississippi, a federal judge declared banning abortion after 15 weeks was unconstitutional.

“On the one hand, sensibly speaking, this is unconstitutional and it’s going to cost taxpayers dollars. While on the other hand, litigation would most surely help to uphold Roe v. Wade as the continued law of the land for women’s health and privacy protections,” said Francie Hunt, executive director of Tennessee Advocates for Planned Parenthood.

Even the state’s top anti-abortion group, Tennessee Right to Life, has opposed the bill due to the surrounding legal concerns.

In 2017, the group testified before lawmakers that its opposition stemmed from Supreme Court rulings banning criminalizing abortion prior to viability. Right to Life has been more subdued in airing concerns surrounding this year’s bill, arguing Tennessee should let other states fight the legal battle.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee has already vowed to fight the legislation in court.

“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,” Hedy Weinberg, the group’s executive director, said in a statement.

“If this bill passes, the ACLU of Tennessee stands ready to file a lawsuit immediately.”

The Western Journal has reviewed this Associated Press story and may have altered it prior to publication to ensure that it meets our editorial standards.

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