Tennessee GOP lawmakers push bill to allow cities and counties count 'unborn children' in census

A Census 2020 form is seen Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020, in Toksook Bay, Alaska. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
A Census 2020 form is seen Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020, in Toksook Bay, Alaska. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

NASHVILLE - Two Tennessee Republican lawmakers want cities and counties to have the ability to have their own "special census" to count "unborn children," arguing it will help local governments obtain more money from the state for local needs.

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon, and Rep. Micah Van Huss, R-Gray, comes as the U.S. Census Bureau prepares to conduct the once-a-decade census that is used to determine the number of seats each state has in the U.S. House as well as distribute billions of federal dollars to local communities.

"Even though a child might not yet be born, that life will certainly add to the population size and impact the community," said Pody, a staunch opponent of abortion rights, in a news release announcing Senate Bill 2069. "Not only will it cost money to educate that child, but that life will also increase costs for infrastructure, health care and other services."

Pody also said that "if we believe an unborn child is a person, and I certainly do, then the life of that child deserves to be counted in the population."

It was not immediately clear how the special census would be conducted or whether the proposal would make much headway in terms of recognition by the U.S. Census Bureau, which does not currently count fetuses.

But a spokeswoman for Pody said the bill has a "very practical application by requiring the state of Tennessee to recognize the life of unborn children in a census count, if local governments choose to conduct a special census to potentially get more dollars from the state. The legislation would not have an effect on how the U.S. Census Bureau conducts its census or how much money the state would receive from the federal government. It would only affect how the state allocates funds based on population."

Francie Hunt, executive director of Tennessee Advocates for Planned Parenthood, called Pody's bill "pretty silly" and then issued a challenge to Pody to back another bill pending in the Legislature.

"If Sen. Pody is sincere about helping communities prepare for new children, we hope he will support our bill to prohibit pregnancy to be classified as a pre-existing condition, so that insurance covers maternity care," Hunt said.

The bill Hunt referenced, SB2435/HB2709, deletes a provision in current Tennessee law. It says "if a person or the person's spouse is pregnant at the time the health insurance coverage is initially purchased, then at the time of the purchase, pregnancy and/or maternity benefits for the current pregnancy may be denied as a pre-existing condition."

Two Democrats, Sen. Brenda Gilmore of Nashville and Rep. London Lamar of Memphis, are sponsoring the legislation to delete a provision they say discriminates against women.

Last year, Pody and Van Huss pressed a "fetal heartbeat" bill that sought to ban abortions upon detection of a fetus' heartbeat, which can occur as early as six weeks into pregnancy when many women don't yet know they're pregnant.

Van Huss passed it in the House. But Pody's version stalled in the upper chamber. This year, Republican Gov. Bill Lee is making an altered version of the measure part of his legislative package.

According to the Pody/Van Huss bill, local governments would have to spend their own money "to take a special census that includes unborn children in its population at any time during the interim between the regular decennial federal census."

The proposed state law also says the "special census must be conducted by the federal bureau of the census or in a manner directed by and satisfactory to the department of economic and community development. A municipality or county electing to conduct such special census shall certify the census results to the departments of finance and administration and economic and community development."

Another bill provision directs any state funds go into a fund for highways, bridges and ferries or municipal aid funds.

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.

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