Lee press conference - pro-life legislation - 1/23/20

Gov. Bill Lee announces plans to push comprehensive pro-life legislation at a press conference on Thursday with state legislators.


NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) - Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee plans to push comprehensive pro-life legislation to effectively end abortion in Tennessee.

Lee said in a press conference on Thursday morning he will support a bill that would prohibit abortions as soon as a heartbeat can be detected.

“We have a special responsibility to protect the most vulnerable – the unborn,” Lee said.

The legislation would make Tennessee one of the most pro-life states in the country.

According to a news release, the legislation would build upon successes in other states while incorporating innovated approaches to enhance existing law, including provisions such as:

  • Prohibiting an abortion where a fetal heartbeat exists;
  • Requiring a mother to undergo an ultrasound prior to an abortion;
  • Prohibiting an abortion where the physician is aware that the decision to seek an abortion is motivated by the race, sex, or health or disability diagnosis of the unborn child.

“I believe that every human life is precious, and we have a responsibility to protect it,” said Lee. “Today, Tennessee is taking a monumental step in celebrating, cherishing, and defending life at every stage. I’m grateful to be joined by so many leaders in our state who are boldly standing up for our most vulnerable.”

“The General Assembly has been committed to making Tennessee a very strong pro-life state over the last decade,” said House Speaker Cameron Sexton in a statement. “Obviously, we are very supportive and appreciative of the Governor’s dedication to pro-life principles. We are looking forward to working with him and his team on this issue, as well as his legislative vision. I know members of the House and the chairmen are eager to review the proposed language and continue their strong support for life.”

There are no details yet about the bill will contain since it is still being drafted. Some Democrats said Lee is pandering to the extreme lawmakers who are up for election this year.

According to a news release from the Governor’s office, to protect against legal challenges, the new law would also include a creative “ladder” provision, modeled after Missouri law, of sequential abortion prohibitions at two-week gestational age intervals, along with severability clauses for each step of the ladder.

Last year a proposed heartbeat ban filed in Tennessee. The House of Representatives passed the legislation, but the Senate voted it down after members argued the bill was too strict and would be struck down in court on constitutional grounds.

Six states – Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi and Ohio – passed “heartbeat” bills in 2019. Missouri passed a ban on abortions after the eighth week of pregnancy. Alabama passed a near-total abortion ban at the end of last year’s session.

Tennessee Democrats came out against the governor’s proposal.

“This bill is fiscally irresponsible,” said state Rep. London Lamar, D-Memphis. “It would drag us into a legal fight that will cost a lot of money. Roe v. Wade is the law of the land.”

“No politician should be in the middle of the decision to end a pregnancy, choose adoption, or raise a child. This is always a heart wrenching decision and must be left to a woman, her family and her faith, in consultation with her doctor or health care provider,” said Tennessee Democratic Party Chair Mary Mancini in a news release. “If Republicans were acting in the best interests of women and families they would put forth real solutions. They would work with Democrats to legitimately reduce the number of unintended pregnancies through policy that will actually work.”

Tennessee Right to Life issued a brief statement about the governor’s proposal as it waits to see the written legislation.

“We are grateful to live in a pro-life state where voters approved a constitutional amendment making pro-life policies possible,” said Will Brewer, Director of Government Affairs, Tennessee Right to Life. “We’re also grateful for a pro-life governor and look forward to seeing the language of the bill.”

The Bishops of the Tennessee Catholic Dioceses issued a joint statement last year against the proposed bill because of the likelihood of legal challenges. The bill had been consistently struck down by state and federal courts for being unconstitutional.

Previous coverage

Tennessee House passes fetal heartbeat bill 65-21
Tennessee could become 'hot spot' for abortions
Committee considers near-ban on abortion in Tennessee


Nancy Amons is an award-winning member of the News4 Investigates team. She has been breaking stories in Middle Tennessee for more than 20 years.

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