Just months after one of the nation’s most restrictive abortion laws went into effect in Tennessee, Republican lawmakers are considering bills with exceptions, including to save the mother’s life during of a fatal pregnancy.
State Senators Ferrell Haile and Rusty Crowe both confirmed to the Tennessee Lookout that they were considering legislation that would change the law when the first session of the 113th General Assembly opens in January.
“We’re looking at what exceptions might be appropriate,” said Haile, a Republican from Gallatin.
He declined to elaborate on whether these would include rape and incest, which are not permitted under the “triggering ban”, noting that it is in the “review phase”. He said, however, he was “leaning toward” sponsoring legislation.
“I just think there’s a reason here that there might be a need for some exceptions on this,” Haile said.
When asked if such legislation could include a change to the “affirmative defense” portion of the law, Haile said that was being discussed by other lawmakers.
Crowe, a Republican from Bristol, is considering this type of legislation, which would make saving the mother’s life an exception rather than requiring an “affirmative defence” in which the doctor would have to present evidence in court to deny criminal liability or civil. , proving that an abortion was necessary to prevent the mother from dying or suffering from a terminal illness.
“In the next legislative session, Senator Crowe wants to ensure that the law protects doctors who perform life-saving abortions when the mother’s life is in danger. At this point, Senator Crowe has not met with stakeholders to discuss specific legislation, but he looks forward to doing so in the weeks and months to come,” the Republican Caucus spokeswoman said. Senate, Molly Gormley.
Although Republican lawmakers who voted overwhelmingly to “ban the trigger” in 2019 have their doubts about the restrictions, they will face opposition.
I just think there’s a reason here why it might be necessary to make some exceptions to that.
— Sen. Ferrell Haile, a Gallatin Republican, speaking on the state’s strict abortion ban.
Governor Bill Lee says he is “satisfied” with the law as written and does not think it needs to be changed. Other Republican lawmakers are also likely to erect roadblocks.
Tennessee Right to Life celebrated the law’s proclamation this summer after Roe v. Wade. And lobbyist Will Brewer said the organization, which was largely responsible for passing the Safeguarding Human Life Act, “in the abstract” would oppose such legislation. He has yet to see a tongue but has already voiced his opposition to Haile and Sen. Richard Briggs, a Republican from Knoxville, supports the exceptions for saving the mother’s life and for rape and incest.
Doctors who perform an abortion can be charged with a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
In addition to talking to lawmakers, Tennessee Right to Life is negotiating with the Tennessee Medical Association, after previously saying it wouldn’t accept any changes to the law.
“We are in discussions with the TMA to see if there is some kind of clarifying language that all parties can agree on, but we are not going to support any kind of legislation that degrades the affirmative defense or adds other exceptions to human defence. Protection of Life Act,” Brewer said.
Brewer would not elaborate on those negotiations.
According to a ProPublica article published last week in the Tennessee Lookout, Brewer and other anti-abortion leaders dragged lawmakers into a recent webinar on fighting changes to state law.
When State Rep. Susan Lynn asked during the presentation if they could run crisis pregnancy centers nine months after the law was enacted to see some of their clients’ babies, Brewer responded with a l affirmative.
Groups seeking to change the law will achieve this kind of mood early in the session.
The Tennessee Medical Association is among those calling for a change to the abortion ban in cases where doctors are required to treat 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 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,” the TMA spokesperson said. , Doug Word.
He declined to be specific about 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 at a meeting earlier this year that he had heard from doctors’ and doctors’ groups saying the legislature should ‘tweak’ the law ‘to make sure we don’t lure in our struggling doctors. when they try to follow the law”. .”
Crowe said lawmakers should address issues around unsafe pregnancies and fertilizing an egg outside the womb.
He stressed that the intention of the law is understood: to stop “elective” abortions, not to embarrass doctors or endanger women’s health during events such as ectopic pregnancies during which the egg is fertilized in the fallopian tube and other life-threatening situations.
Briggs, who admits he didn’t think Roe vs. Wade would be overruled when he voted for the ‘trigger ban’ in 2019, said this week he did so to ensure the State had some sort of law in effect governing abortions. Otherwise, any type of abortion could have been allowed at any time for any reason other than a medical purpose, he said.
A doctor by trade, Briggs does not plan to legislate to change the abortion ban, but said he would support measures allowing exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother.
Briggs sent a letter to Brewer and Right to Life board members explaining his position.
Although he thanked the organization for its efforts to overturn Roe v. Wade and reminded them that he co-sponsored the “trigger” bill and helped defeat legislation allowing abortion pills via telemedicine, Briggs said the law needed clarification.
“A physician who must operate to rupture an ectopic pregnancy or who must terminate an early pregnancy in order to save the life of a woman with acute leukemia should not be committing a crime,” Briggs wrote. “A doctor who is dedicated to preserving a life that God deems precious is not a criminal, whether charged or not. The right to life is for everyone for life, not just for the unborn child.
Briggs defended doctors’ oath to provide treatment to their patients, and in the letter he also said that a child “who is the victim of brutal rape or incest should not be compelled by law to have a pregnancy that could prevent her from having her own family.
“Moral decision-making is not always clear but means acting responsibly,” her letter states.
Briggs told the Tennessee Lookout that his biggest mistake in voting for the “trigger” bill was that he didn’t understand the “affirmative defense” part of the bill.
The way the law is written, doctors are guilty until they can prove their innocence, which goes against normal court protections, and they must pay their own legal fees to provide necessary care. to save the mother’s life, Briggs points out.
In the webinar hosted by Tennessee Right to Life and Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, lawmakers were urged not to give in to calls to change the law.
Brewer argued that there is a difference between a pregnant woman bleeding in an emergency room in the middle of the night and a case in which a woman wants to terminate a pregnancy because she has a history of medical issues.
The right to life lobbyist says those involved in the appeal did not mislead lawmakers, nor did the language of the law.
“And I believe in a real-world application there is an exception for the life of the mother, even though it’s not worded that way. It’s an exception because prosecutors will factor the possibility of an affirmative defense into their charging considerations, and so, as you’ve seen in Tennessee with our post-viability ban and as you’ve seen in other states, no one is charged when there is an affirmative defense when there was a good faith effort to do the right thing.