Tennessee legislators pass controversial fetal heartbeat bill

Updated: Jun. 19, 2020 at 5:44 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - A bill banning abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected is on its way to Tennessee Governor Bill Lee’s desk. The Tennessee Senate passed the bill early Friday morning with the vote splitting down party lines.

Only hours after the Tennessee Senate unexpectedly passed a strict abortion bill, which had Governor Bill Lee’s full support, Governor Lee was in Memphis visiting two COVID 19 testing sites. Apart from a tweet earlier in the day saying “One of the most important things we can do to be pro-family is to protect the rights of the most vulnerable in our state, and there is no more vulnerable than the unborn,” Governor Lee did not publicly comment on the bill.

Those against the bill in Memphis demanded answers from the Governor during his visit Friday.

“Bottom line this legislation is unconstitutional,” Senator Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis) said. “States like Mississippi, Iowa and Kentucky have tried but courts have found it unconstitutional.”

Akbari voted against the bill which would outlaw abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, mandate a woman receives an ultrasound before an abortion and oulaw abortions based on race, sex and condition with only exceptions made for medical emergencies.

Akbari said she was also surprised the bill was taken up as the Capitol remains closed to outsiders because of the pandemic.

Republican Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown), who voted yes, said it’s time. He calls the life of the unborn precious and said “the legislature has discussed the bill for two years and I’m glad we were able to reach a solution.”

Some Republicans hope this is the bill to make its way to the Supreme Court to challenge Roe V. Wade.

“Clearly those who voted for the bill know it’s going to end up before the court which is ultimately going to say is this bill constitutional,” WMC Political Analyst Michael Nelson said. “But the only way to get it before the supreme court is to actually pass the bill.”

But will it become law? While Gov. Lee is poised to sign it, many have already threatened lawsuits. The ACLU, Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights challenged the bill in court on the same day it was passed.

Nelson said nothing will go into law if a legal battle is ensuing.

“I would be surprised if this bill was in effect come anytime soon,” Nelson said.

The House of Representatives had already passed the bill before the pandemic. Mississippi had previously passed fetal heartbeat bill, but it was struck down as unconstitutional in court.

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