Bill to ban abortions at 20 weeks passes in Senate

Friday, April 28, 2017, Vol. 41, No. 17

NASHVILLE (AP) — The Tennessee Senate on Monday voted to pass a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks if doctors determine the fetus is viable. The ban would not apply in medical emergencies or if the mother faces risks of death or serious damage to a major bodily function.

The Tennessee attorney general's office has said that it would defend the measure if it were to become law, despite previously calling the legislation "constitutionally suspect." The bill was amended to help it withstand a constitutional challenge, but lawmakers still argue whether it could survive a court battle.

The measure sponsored by Sen. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, passed the Senate 27-3 and could face a House vote as early as Wednesday. The proposal would make it a felony for doctors to violate the law.

"It seeks to protect unborn children after viability, which is the point where a baby can survive outside the mother's womb," said Hensley, a physician.

He said 20 other states have similar laws that prohibit abortions after 20 weeks and his bill would not do anything to affect the laws giving women the right to have an abortion in earlier stages.

Under the measure, a doctor would be required to test if a fetus is viable unless there is a medical emergency.

The only thing both sides could agree on in the debate is that abortion after 20 weeks is very rare in Tennessee.

Sen. Lee Harris, D-Memphis, said he was concerned the bill did not address cases where there were fetal abnormalities. He suggested that some parents would not be able to exercise their right to abort fetuses with profound abnormalities, as a result of the legislation. He called the measure, where doctors face new criminal penalties of prison time and the possibility of losing their license, a sea change.

Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville, said he feared more parents would decide to have an abortion as a result of the legislation because the measure puts a burden on those with high-risk pregnancies.

But Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, told fellow lawmakers during debate that the bill was only making sure that viable babies weren't aborted and she hoped colleagues realize they aren't voting for themselves.

"They are voting for the babies that cannot speak for themselves," Bowling said.