Just months after one of the country’s most restrictive abortion laws went into effect in Tennessee, Republican lawmakers are considering bills that would provide exceptions, including saving the mother’s life in a fatal pregnancy.
State Sens. Ferrell Haile and Rusty Crowe both confirmed to Tennessee Lookout that they are investigating legislation that would change the law when the first session of the 113th General Assembly opens in January.
“We are considering what exceptions might be appropriate,” said Haile, a Gallatin Republican.
He declined to specify whether that would include rape and incest, which aren’t allowed under the “trigger ban,” noting that he’s in the “examination phase.” However, he said he “tends” to sponsor legislation.
“I just think there’s a reason that some exceptions might be needed here,” Haile said.
When asked if such legislation could include an amendment to the “affirmative defense” portion of the law, Haile said it was being discussed by other lawmakers.
Crowe, a Bristol Republican, considers this type of legislation, which would make saving the mother’s life an exception rather than requiring an “affirmative defense,” which would require the doctor to present evidence in court to establish the criminal or civil To negate liability, proof that an abortion was necessary to prevent the mother from dying or suffering from a life-altering illness.
“In the upcoming legislature, Senator Crowe wants to make sure the law protects doctors who perform life-saving abortions when the mother’s life is in danger. At this time, Senator Crowe has not met with stakeholders to discuss specific legislation, but he looks forward to doing so in the coming weeks and months,” said Molly Gormley, spokeswoman for the Republican faction in the Senate.
Though doubtful about the restrictions, Republican lawmakers, who overwhelmingly voted in favor of the “withdrawal ban” in 2019, will face opposition.
I just think there’s a reason here that some exceptions might be needed.
– Senator Ferrell Haile, a Gallatin Republican, speaks about the state’s strict anti-abortion ban.
Gov. Bill Lee says he is “satisfied” with the written law and doesn’t think it needs to be changed. Other Republican lawmakers are also likely to set up roadblocks.
Tennessee Right to Life celebrated the passing of the law this summer after Roe v. Wade had been lifted. And lobbyist Will Brewer said the organization largely responsible for passing the Human Life Protection Act would oppose that kind of legislation “in the abstract.” He hasn’t seen a language yet, but has already voiced opposition to Haile and Senator. Richard Briggs, a Knoxville Republican, supports exceptions to save mother’s life and for rape and incest.
Doctors who perform an abortion can be charged with up to 15 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
In addition to discussions with lawmakers, Tennessee Right to Life is negotiating with the Tennessee Medical Association, having previously stated that it would not agree to any legislative change.
“We are in discussions with the TMA to see if there is any type of clarifying language that all parties can agree to, but we will not support legislation that downgrades positive defenses or adds any other exemptions to the Human Life Protection Act.” ‘ Brewer said.
Brewer declined to give details of those negotiations.
In a recent webinar, Brewer and other anti-abortion leaders coached lawmakers on how to fend off changes to the state law, according to a ProPublica article published in the Tennessee Lookout last week.
During the presentation, when State Rep. Susan Lynn asked if they could set up crisis pregnancy centers to see some of their clients’ babies nine months after the law went into effect, Brewer said yes.
Groups trying to tweak the law will encounter this type of thinking early in the session.
The Tennessee Medical Association is among those pushing for changes to the abortion ban in cases that force doctors to deal with fetal abnormalities and pregnancy complications. The organization is part of a coalition of medical and hospital interests working to protect women’s health.
“We do not believe that physicians should be held criminally liable or charged for providing care and appropriate treatment, and we also believe that harmful delays in care should be avoided,” said TMA spokesman Doug Word.
He declined to comment specifically on the negotiations with Tennessee Right to Life.
Crowe, chairman of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, could not be reached for comment this week. But he said during a meeting earlier this year he’d heard from medical and medical groups that the Legislature should “fine-tune” the law “to make sure we don’t get our documents in trouble when they try to comply with the law.” “
Crowe said lawmakers must address issues related to dangerous pregnancies and the fertilization of an egg outside the womb.
He noted that the intent of the law is understood: to stop “choice abortions,” not to get doctors in trouble or endanger women’s health in events such as ectopic pregnancy, where the egg is fertilized in the fallopian tube, and other fatal situations .
Briggs, who admits he did not believe Roe v. Wade would be overthrown for voting “withdrawal ban” in 2019, said this week he did so to ensure the state had some sort of law regulating abortion. Otherwise, any type of abortion could have been allowed at any time for reasons other than medical, he said.
Briggs, a doctor by trade, is not planning legislation to change the abortion ban but said he would support measures allowing exceptions for rape, incest and mother’s life.
Briggs sent a letter to the board members of Brewer and Right to Life explaining his position.
Although he credited the organization for their efforts in overthrowing Roe v. Thanking Wade and reminding her that he co-sponsored the “Trigger” law and helped thwart legislation allowing abortion pills through telemedicine, Briggs said the law needed to be cleared.
“A physician who must operate on a ruptured ectopic pregnancy or terminate an early pregnancy to save the life of a woman with acute leukemia should commit no crime,” Briggs wrote. “A doctor dedicated to preserving a life that God considers precious is not a felon, accused or not. The right to life applies to everyone for life, not just the unborn.”
Briggs has defended doctors’ oaths to treat their patients, and in the letter he also said that a child “who is the victim of brutal rape or incest should not be legally compelled to carry a pregnancy to term that could result in it.” that they can never have a family of their own.”
“Moral decision-making is not always clear, but means acting responsibly,” his letter reads.
Briggs told the Tennessee Lookout that his biggest mistake in voting for the “trigger” bill was that he didn’t understand the “affirmative defense” portion of the bill.
The way the law is written, doctors are guilty until they can prove their innocence, which is contrary to normal legal protections, and they must pay their own legal fees to provide the care necessary to save the mother’s life, Briggs points out.
The webinar, conducted by Tennessee Right to Life and Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, urged lawmakers not to give in to calls to change the law.
Brewer claimed there’s a difference between a pregnant woman bleeding in an emergency room in the middle of the night and a case where a woman wants to terminate a pregnancy because of a history of medical problems.
The Right to Life lobbyist claims those involved in the call did not mislead lawmakers, nor did the language in the law.
“And I believe in a real application, there is an exception for the mother’s life, even if it’s not worded that way. It’s an exception because prosecutors include the possibility of a positive defense in their prosecution considerations, and as you’ve seen in Tennessee with our post-viability ban, and as you’ve seen in other states, no one gets charged if there’s a positive defense when you have made a good faith effort to do the right thing.”