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Push for adoption, foster reform legislation continues as Tennessee anticipates Roe v. Wade ruling

Published: May. 23, 2022 at 5:54 AM CDT|Updated: May. 23, 2022 at 7:00 AM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The U.S. Supreme Court decision on Roe v. Wade could come as early as next month. Tennessee lawmakers expect adoption and foster reform legislation to be a priority in next year’s general assembly.

Tennessee, like all Mid-South states, has a trigger law that would go into effect banning most abortion in the state if Roe v. Wade is overturned and a leaked Supreme Court Draft opinion suggests it may.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee says adoptions and foster care reform has been a focus of his throughout his term and will continue to be so no matter the decision.

The Adoption Project, a newly formed organization in Nashville, is aiming to have some of that legislation in front of lawmakers’ next general assembly.

The policy organization says it’s likely more children will be given up for adoption or go into foster care if most abortions are outlawed in the state.

The creators of The Adoption Project used their own experience of adoption in the state to create the organization.

“I look at other states and see this state does this this way and this state does it this way,” said Jeremey Harrell The Adoption Project CEO. “One day I was having a complaint session with a friend of mine frankly and saying I don’t understand why we do something this way. I very clearly got the response back of ‘Jeremy if you think there’s such a problem or if you think the system is so messed up you should do something about it.’”

CEO Jeremy Harrell and COO Jennifer Donnals are both former Governor Haslam staffers.

The Adoption Project says a majority of adoptions in the state are foster to adopt so they want to improve both adoptions laws and the foster care system.

State Democrats say they’ve been trying for this reform for years and are open to a more aggressive push but they say they must see certain things in the legislation. One of those things is proper funding.

“We have already seen where there have been catastrophic failures in our foster care system, in our detention centers which are managed by DCS,” said Sen. Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis). “Is there even funding available? A few years ago the legislature made it more difficult for same-sex couples to adopt children. So you can’t say you care about children and on the same hand make it more difficult for children to receive that type of care.”

“I think if the opinion comes down is what we expect based on what we’ve seen then it’s fairly intuitive to think there will be more children who need families and more birth parents who need support,” said Harrell.

Governor Bill Lee’s Office said “For the past three years, we have been very focused on expanding support for children, mothers and families in crisis to ensure the state is prepared in any scenario, whether or not there is a change in federal policy. Foster care and adoption will continue to be a top priority for Gov. Lee.”

Lawmakers do not expect any special session to happen on adoption and foster care reform ahead of the start of the new General Assembly in January.

The Supreme Court decision is expected later this summer.

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