(LifeSiteNews) — Tennessee Republicans have introduced and sponsored two bills in the state legislature to amend the Human Life Protection Act (HLPA).
The first new bill, HB1440/SB857, amends the HLPA to make an exception to allow abortion if the conception occurred by rape.
The second new bill, HB883/SB745, is moving quickly through the Tennessee House, sponsored by Republican Reps. Esther Helton-Haynes, Iris Rudder, Patsy Hazelwood, Andrew Farmer, Jerome Moon, Mark White, Pat Marsh, Sam Witson, Ron Travis, Joe Carr, and Kevin Vaughan, and Republican Senator Richard Briggs. This bill would substantially amend the HLPA to allow the abortion of children having a “lethal fetal anomaly.” The bill also allows abortion for preventing (in addition to treating) a medical emergency for the mother.
Further, the HB883/SB745 changes the state’s burden of proof in the prosecution of criminal abortion by allowing abortion subject to the physician’s “good faith medical judgment” rather than “reasonable medical judgment.” In his recent legal opinion, pro-life attorney Paul Linton wrote that passing HB883/SB745 would “effectively nullify the prohibition of abortion in Tennessee.”
The HLPA, passed as a trigger law in 2019, went into effect last year after the Supreme Court rendered its decision in Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health. The HLPA criminalizes all abortion in Tennessee except as necessary to save the life of the mother or “to prevent serious risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.” The provision to save the life or health of the mother is an “affirmative defense” that a physician may invoke under prosecution. However, no physician has been prosecuted in Tennessee under the HLPA since it came into effect.
The text of HB883 is difficult for the public to access, but it can be read here. By protocol, bills are not posted to the Tennessee General Assembly website until the bill, as amended, has passed out of committee. However, HB883 was introduced as a “caption bill” whereby the entirety of the bill comprises an amendment. The “caption” currently associated with the bill is deceptively unrelated to the amended bill, providing “for the upkeep and maintenance of a monument on the capitol campus that is in memory of the victims of abortion.”
The Tennessee Medical Association helped draft the bill. Tennessee Right to Life (TRL) was not involved at all.
“We barely had 24-hour notice on the language,” reported Will Brewer, director of government relations for Tennessee Right to Life.
Brewer testified before the Population Health Subcommittee on Tuesday, February 14. Asked whether TRL considered this to be a pro-life bill, he responded, “No, we don’t. Our organization would score a yes-vote on this bill negatively.”
Brewer’s response drew the ire of House Speaker Cameron Sexton, who addressed the subcommittee, saying, “Something happened that I’ve never experienced before: Somebody testifying tried to intimidate our members by telling them how they’re going to score the vote.”
HB883/SB745 was passed out of the Population Health Subcommittee. It is scheduled to be heard and voted on by the Health Committee next Wednesday, February 22.
Pressed to withdraw his sponsorship of SB745 by pro-life constituents, Senator Briggs, a physician, responded by email, “My bill allows doctors to save the life of mothers so they can have other children and raise families. My bill deals solely with medical issues and children that cannot survive outside the womb.”
But Brewer responded to LifeSiteNews, “The law as it exists allows terminations to occur to save the life of the mother. This bill [HB883/SB745] just opens us up to all kinds of bad-faith terminations.”
Briggs recently admitted that he had barely read the Human Life Protection Act before sponsoring it and voting for it in 2019.
Speaking about both new bills, Stacy Dunn, president of Tennessee Right to Life, said, “We exist to protect the right to life of all unborn children. We are not open to sacrificing some children for the sake of polling. The right to life is not subject to public opinion.”