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NASHVILLE, Tennessee, March 7, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – Tennessee came one step closer to banning the vast majority of abortions on Thursday, with the state House passing legislation to ban abortion as soon as a fetal heartbeat can be detected.

In January, Republicans introduced a bill that would require abortionists to test for and document fetal heartbeats before abortion, and if one is found they would be barred from committing the abortion except in medical emergencies. Preborn babies’ hearts finish forming around seven or eight weeks into pregnancy.

The bill passed the House by a vote of 65 to 21 Thursday, the Nashville Tennessean reports.

“Colleagues, we cannot continue to allow the slaughter of the unborn while we hope for better circumstances,” said Republican state Rep. Micah Van Huss, the bill’s sponsor. State Rep. Matthew Hill, another Republican, agreed that the legislation was “long overdue” and “not overly complicated.”

“We have a responsibility as the representatives of our districts, of our citizens, to ensure that life, innocent life, is protected in all its stages,” argued Hill, who had the bill amended to include language ensuring the state’s current 20-week abortion ban would remain in place if the heartbeat language is struck down. “We will be able to inject some common sense into our code.”

Heartbeat bills ban abortion far earlier than the “viability” limit set by Roe v. Wade, which some Republicans see as an sign to turn back and others relish as a chance to make the Supreme Court reconsider the 1973 ruling. Tennessee lawmakers are also considering legislation that would automatically ban abortion after Roe is overturned, and Republican Gov. Bill Lee has said he “would support any bill that reduces the number of abortions in the state.”

To reach Lee’s desk, however, the heartbeat bill first has to clear the state Senate, where Lt. Gov. Randy McNally says it “hasn’t had a very good reception.” At issue are concerns that the language of the current version could potentially invalidate existing abortion limits. McNally said he would like to see Senate action on the bill delayed until those concerns are resolved.

More notably, Tennessee Right to Life and the Dioceses of Knoxville, Memphis, and Nashville have publicly opposed the bill, preferring that lawmakers instead focus on the post-Roe ban that wouldn’t take effect unless some other legal battle eventually resolves the dispute.

“Given the field of legal realities that we must consider, we believe it would not be prudent to support the ‘heartbeat bill’ knowing the certainty of its overturning when challenged, in addition to the court-ordered fees that would be paid to the pro-abortion plaintiffs,” reads a statement by Knoxville Bishop Richard Stika, Nashville Bishop Mark Spalding, and Archbishop Joseph Kurtz.

Kurtz is the former president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Pro-lifers who support the heartbeat law note that virtually every state pro-life measure – no matter how moderate – is challenged in court anyway, with the outcome typically having little to do with the legal merits. They also argue that Roe will never fall until it’s challenged, and that now is the time to do so with President Donald Trump having made two appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court so far.

In response to such objections, Rep. Van Huss reiterated that “we owe it to our taxpayers to use every available resource to save babies’ lives.”

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