Tennessee House passes one of nation's most restrictive laws on abortion

There's no commitment on the part of the Senate to follow suit during session aimed at financial matters

Abortion-restriction bill sponsor Republican Rep. Susan Lynn, lower right. (AP File Photo/Mark Humphrey)

NASHVILLE - Tennessee House Republicans on Thursday approved what proponents believe would be one of the nation's strictest anti-abortion laws with a provision that bars the procedure upon detection of a hormone associated with pregnancy that shows up as early as 11 days.

The vote was 68-17. The bill was introduced in January by Republican Gov. Bill Lee in an effort to bridge previous differences between House and Senate Republicans over abortion restrictions.

While the measure has now passed the House, it is unclear whether the chamber's action will spur Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, the Senate speaker, to take it up as lawmakers were seeking to wrap up their session as early as Thursday. McNally and fellow Senate Republicans have previously indicated the upper chamber will not take up the measure in this session, which is intended to focus on the state budget, the revenues for which have been ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic. The session was also meant to focus on other must-do or time-sensitive legislation.

The Tennessee bill is part of an effort by Republican-led states to challenge all or parts of the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision and subsequent rulings. Republicans and abortion opponents hope the court's new makeup will result in states having more ability to impose restrictions.

Lee's bill deploys a "laddered" approach, offering various restrictions in hopes that if courts reject the strictest one, justices will consider the next one down the list and so forth, possibly accepting one of them.

Its strictest provision seeks to ban all abortions except to save the life of a woman or in cases of "serious risk" of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function upon detection of the hormone human chorionic gonadotropin. The hormone, produced by cells growing around a fetus, is detectable as early as 11 days after a woman becomes pregnant via a blood test and from 12-14 days by a urine test.

There are also "fetal heartbeat" provisions in the bill that bar abortion procedures upon detection of a fetus' heart beat, as early as five-and-a-half to six weeks after gestation.

Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Old Hickory, the primary sponsor, praised Lee and his staff for coming up with the legal language, calling it "a very just and a very fair law," later adding that "hopefully we can protect more babies and more life."

Among those opposing the bill was Rep. London Lamar, D-Memphis, who told the chamber, "I think protecting children is great, but at the same time you don't have to take away a woman's right to choose."

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