NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) - The Tennessee Senate Judiciary Committee is hearing public comment on an amendment that would almost entirely ban abortion in the state. It’s the latest effort by lawmakers who argue life begins at conception.
In March the Tennessee House of Representatives passed H.B. 77, known as a “Fetal Heartbeat” bill, which would prohibit abortions from the point a fetal heartbeat is detected, except in certain medical emergencies.
The bill passed 65-21 on Thursday morning at the Tennessee Capitol. Stay with News4 for updates on this developing story.
The measure did not pass the Senate in April 2019 after members argued the bill was too strict and would be struck down in court on constitutional grounds. Senators voted to instead send the issue to a summer study committee.
The committee met Monday for the first of two days of public comment on the amendment to the bill. The amendment makes the bill more strict through language that attempts to change the definition of “fetal viability.”
Currently, “fetal viability” has been accepted through courts and standard medicine to be the period in gestation at which a fetus is capable of living outside of the womb, apart from its mother. That point has previously been 28 weeks, but has more recently been successful at 24 weeks.
The Tennessee amendment attempts to change the definition of viability to being at the point “upon finding the presence of human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) using a test that is consistent with standard medical practice” as the text reads.
HCG is a hormone that is rapidly produced in a woman’s body immediately after a fertilized egg attaches to the wall of the uterus. It often happens about six days after fertilization. Levels of HCG then rise rapidly, doubling every two to three days.
Common, over-the-counter pregnancy tests work by detecting the presence of HCG. By outlawing abortions after detecting the presence of HCG, it would mean women would have less than a two week window after conception to have an abortion in Tennessee.
This year, six states – Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi and Ohio – passed “Heartbeat” bills. In May, Missouri passed a ban on abortions after the 8th week of pregnancy. Alabama passed a near-total abortion ban at the end of the spring session.
Anti-abortion advocates say the goal is to get Tennessee to join the growing list of states seeking to overturn Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.
The rooms and halls of the Cordell Hull Building where the hearing was being held overflowed with people who came to be a part of the discussion. The CEO of Planned Parenthood -- the state's largest abortion provider – told News4 she was not allowed to speak, so they set up discussion in another room.
"We have women who have come today to tell their personal stories about the healthcare that they needed and how important was that abortion was accessible to them and was safe and legal here in Tennessee,” says Ashley Cofield, Planned Parenthood CEO. “So we really want to hear from them and we want to center it around patient experiences."
ACLU of Tennessee provided free transportation to people from Memphis and Knoxville to make their voices heard in the state capitol. The organization also facilitated carpools for supporters of women’s choice.
The Senate Judiciary committee will hear public comment for a second day on Tuesday before placing it on the legislative floors when the session begins in January. If the measure passes in its current form, it would join Alabama as being one of the strictest in the country.
"We either have life created naturally or we have life created by our government and the latter is incredibly disturbing because then if you're saying that life is only created when the government says life is created then we're all in really big trouble," says Leanna Hamm, who donned a red shirt with dozens of other people in favor of the strict amendment.