Washington D.C., Jan 24, 2020 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- On the eve of the 2020 March for Life in Washington DC, lawmakers in several states announced the introduction of potentially significant pro-life legislation, while others announced efforts to preserve legal protection for abortion.
In Tennessee, Gov. Bill Lee (R) announced Thursday that the state’s Republican lawmakers would pursue several measures aimed at restrcting abortion including a bill which would ban abortions after an unborn baby’s heartbeat can be detected, which can be around six weeks gestation.
The legislation, which is still under development, would also require a woman seeking an abortion be shown an ultrasound of her baby, and would ban abortions based on race, sex, a Down syndrome diagnosis or the diagnosis of a fetal abnormality.
“We know that when a mother views her unborn child and hears a heartbeat, hearts and minds are changed,” Lee said during the Jan. 23 announcement.
The legislative strategy, the Tennessee Lieutenant Governor says, will be modeled after a bill passed in Missouri which includes abortion bans at various stages of gestation and is designed to stand up to judicial scrutiny.
The proposed Tennessee law includes bans after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, as well as at eight, 10, and 12 weeks gestation. The hope is that if one of these bans is struck down in court, the others will stand.
Lee’s office confirmed to The Tennesseean newspaper that the proposed legislation would include an exception allowing for abortions in the case of a mother’s life being in danger.
Tennessee lawmakers have pursued a heartbeat bill before, in 2019, but that legislation failed to garner enough support in the Tennessee Senate to advance.
At the time, the Catholic bishops of Tennessee voiced their opposition to a fetal heartbeat law and instead urged alternative legislation less open to legal challenges, stating last February that while they are opposed to abortion, they believe the Heartbeat Bill would fail a likely court challenge. They instead voiced support for “trigger ban” legislation that would ban abortion in the state in the case of the Supreme Court overturning the 1973 Roe v Wade decision.
Georgia’s governor signed a similar heartbeat bill into law during May 2019, but in October 2019 a federal judge blocked the law from coming into force.
In Kentucky, a Senate panel on Thursday approved a bill that would require doctors and other health workers to provide “medically appropriate and reasonable life-saving and life-sustaining medical care and treatment” to any infant born after a failed abortion. Violating the bill would be a felony punishable by 1 to 5 years in prison.
Nearly half of the Kentucky Senate’s members have signed on as cosponsors of SB 9, the AP reports.
“Who can dispute that that’s a human life?” Sen. Whitney Westerfield, the bill’s lead sponsor, told the AP.
“It’s outside the womb. It’s alive. Who would advocate for it to be killed?…We want to make sure the law’s there to punish those that are trying to do it and get away with it.”
Kentucky law already bans abortions after 20 weeks gestation, and other pro-life proposals are already under consideration in the state. One such proposal would amend the state Constitution to specify it includes no protection for abortion rights. Another proposal would ban public funds for any agency that performs or counsels patients about abortion, the AP reports.
On the other side of the abortion debate, a Democratic majority in the Virginia General Assembly this week said they want to make the state a “safe haven” for abortion rights.
A Virginia Senate committee passed a bill Jan. 23 to undo the state’s 24-hour waiting period before an abortion, as well a requirement that women seeking an abortion undergo an ultrasound and counseling, the AP reported.
HB 980 would also roll back state requirements that an abortion be provided by a physician, allowing nurse practitioners and physician assistants to perform them; and would undo building code requirements on facilities where abortions are performed, the AP reported.
The Virginia Catholic Conference released information on the House bill and its companion Senate bills Jan. 22, urging voters to oppose the measures and encouraging them to attend the Virginia March for Life in Richmond on February 13, 2020.
Governor Ralph Northam, who is supportive of the measures to relax abortion restrictions this year, in 2019 supported the Repeal Act, a bill that would have relaxed laws regarding third-trimester abortions. The bill’s lead sponsor, Del. Kathy Tran (D-Fairfax) admitted that there was nothing in her bill that would prevent an abortion from being carried out while a mother was in active labor.
When questioned about this provision in the bill, Northam said that such a case would see the newborn infant be given “comfort care” while a discussion ensued about whether or not to pursue medical intervention. The bill eventually was tabled.