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Tennessee's State Capitol

TENNESSEE (LifeSiteNews) – State lawmakers have introduced several bills to modify Tennessee’s Human Life Protection Act (HLPA), but Tennesseans have resisted these changes.

SB857/HB1440, carried by Senator Ferrell Haile and Representative Iris Rudder, both Republicans, would allow abortion up to a gestational age of eight weeks if conception occurred by rape. However, this bill has been put on indefinite hold by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Another bill, SB745/HB883, initially had the co-sponsorship of 12 Republicans and the support of House Speaker Cameron Sexton. Carried by Senator Richard Briggs and Representative Esther Helton-Hayes, SB745/HB883 seemed poised for smooth passage. However, six house Republicans recently withdrew their sponsorship, and the bill has encountered repeated delays. The bill is currently scheduled for consideration by the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 14 and by the House Health Committee on March 22. However, the senate will likely defer again in order to wait for the outcome of the house hearing, because the house has been more active on the bill.

Because SB745/HB883 currently comprises an amendment which entirely replaces the text of the original bill, it is not available to the public through the Tennessee General Assembly website, but it can be read here in its current form. By protocol in Tennessee, bills are posted to the website as they are originally introduced, but bills are not updated as they are amended until the bill passes through committee.

The original bill – the only language currently available on the Tennessee General Assembly website, but language which has been entirely replaced by amendment – would provide that “the state capitol commission is responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of the monument through funds appropriated to the commission.” The caption associated with SB745/HB883 describes the monument as one which is “in memory of the victims of abortion.”

Tennessee Right to Life (TRL) has opposed SB745/HB883, as it has been amended, on several counts. It would allow the abortion of children who have a “lethal fetal anomaly.” It would allow abortion for preventing (in addition to treating) a medical emergency for the mother.

Further, it would change the state’s burden of proof in the prosecution of abortion by allowing abortion subject to the physician’s “good faith medical judgment” rather than “reasonable medical judgment.”

SB745/HB883 would also undo certain abortion restrictions which were passed prior to the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision, including requirements for non-discrimination and a 24-hour waiting period. It would also do away with Tennessee’s Heartbeat Bill, which made abortion illegal if a heartbeat could be detected.

“People think that these older bills aren’t necessary anymore, now that abortion is illegal in Tennessee, but these provide a safety net, in case our Human Life Protection Act is challenged in the future, either by legislation or court action,” said TRL President Stacy Dunn.

Local chapters of Church Militant Resistance issued specific action calls to follow TRL recommendations. Media outlet Tennessee Stands issued a video about HB883 and urged people to contact their representatives. Pro-life students at Knoxville Catholic High School handwrote letters to their own Senator Briggs, asking him to withdraw his sponsorship of SB745 and SB857. Many people fasted and prayed, especially on scheduled hearing dates.

“Legislators have been overwhelmed by the number of emails and calls to their offices in defense of Tennessee’s strong pro-life laws,” TRL reported in a legislative update.

“I brought HB883 up in my Sunday school class,” said Dave Wade of Grace Lutheran Church. “Then I sent people the information; they can decide for themselves what to do with it.”

Some Tennesseans expressed irritation over the lack of transparency for HB883. “Regardless of what you think about the bill itself, is this really how we want to legislate in Tennessee?” asked Knoxville business owner Jack Hay.

Passed as a trigger law in 2019, Tennessee’s HLPA went into effect last year after the Supreme Court rendered its decision in Dobbs. The HLPA criminalizes all abortion in Tennessee except as necessary to save the life of the mother or “to prevent serious risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.” The provision to save the life or health of the mother is an “affirmative defense” that a physician may invoke under prosecution. However, no physician has been prosecuted in Tennessee under the HLPA since it came into effect.