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Gov. Bill Lee announces new fetal heartbeat bill, comprehensive abortion reform

Posted: 10:10 AM, Jan 23, 2020
Updated: 2020-01-23 23:36:11-05
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Governor Bill Lee has proposed a sweeping overhaul of Tennessee abortion law, including a new bill that would ban abortion when a fetal heartbeat is detected.

Lee made the announcement Thursday morning surrounded by several lawmakers.

The abortion overhaul would force a woman to have an ultrasound prior to an abortion. It would go a step further and ban physicians from performing abortions if the mother’s motivation for aborting the child is the sex, race or disability of the baby, and if a fetal heartbeat is detected.

Watch Gov. Bill Lee's full announcement below:

House Speaker Cameron Sexton released the following statement:

“The General Assembly has been committed to making Tennessee a very strong pro-life state over the last decade. Obviously, we are very supportive and appreciative of the Governor’s dedication to pro-life principles. We are looking forward to working with him and his team on this issue, as well as his legislative vision. I know members of the House and the chairmen are eager to review the proposed language and continue their strong support for life.”

In 2019, Lee said he supports banning abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected, as early as six weeks into pregnancy.

Fetal heartbeat bills are at odds with the legal standard under the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade ruling, which prohibits states from banning abortions before viability. But some national abortion opponents hope passing stricter prohibitions will lead to a Supreme Court review of Roe v. Wade.

Lee said the legislation would be modeled after a Missouri law, which includes a "ladder" provision of sequential abortion prohibitions at two-week gestational age intervals, along with severability clauses for each step of the ladder.

Tennessee Democratic Party Chair Mary Mancini responded to the announcement saying politicians should not be involved in the decision to end a pregnancy.

No politician should be in the middle of the decision to end a pregnancy, choose adoption, or raise a child. This is always a heart wrenching decision and must be left to a woman, her family and her faith, in consultation with her doctor or health care provider.

If Republicans were acting in the best interests of women and families they would put forth real solutions. They would work with Democrats to legitimately reduce the number of unintended pregnancies through policy that will actually work:

- Age-appropriate reproductive health education (including teaching abstinence)
- Access to affordable contraceptives and affordable reproductive health for all.

NewsChannel 5 talked with a Planned Parenthood official who says the proposal sends a message to Tennesseeans.

“It just demonstrates a lack of compassion and understanding for what families have to go through and the decisions they have to make to take care of their families and to take the planning of their parenthood very seriously,” said Francie Hunt with Tennessee Advocates for Planned Parenthood.