Tennessee state lawmakers wasted no time taking advantage of a new constitutional amendment, passed on Election Day, that allows the state legislature to pass laws restricting abortion rights.
Rep. Rick Womick (R-Rockvale) pre-filed a bill Thursday that would force women seeking to terminate a pregnancy to receive an ultrasound before they have an abortion. HB 2 would mandate the ultrasound take place no more than 72 hours and not less than 24 hours prior to the abortion being performed.
Womick says that the legislation would let a woman “realize that it’s not just a blob of tissue, it’s a life.”
The forced ultrasound proposal is a type of so-called informed consent bills that have been introduced by anti-choice lawmakers around the country in recent years as part of an overarching attack on abortion rights and access.
The bill requires that during the ultrasound the pregnant person be verbally offered the opportunity to view the ultrasound image and receive a printed copy of the image. If they decline to view the image, the person providing the ultrasound must describe the image “including a medical description of the dimensions of the embryo or fetus.”
A copy of the ultrasound image and a written statement signed by both the pregnant person and the person performing the ultrasound must be kept on file for seven years at the facility where the abortion is to be performed.
The bill includes an exception to the requirement for a pregnant person experiencing “medical emergency or spontaneous miscarriage.” A medical emergency is defined by the bill as any circumstance in which a pregnancy must be terminated to prevent death or “irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.”
Jeff Teague, head of Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee, told the Murfreesboro Daily News Journal that the proposed legislation is not about women’s health and safety, but an attempt to prevent women from obtaining abortion care.
“Women are given that opportunity (to view ultrasound images) now, the only difference is this is forcing women to either view the ultrasound or to have something described to them that they may not want,” Teague said. “This is about shaming women and demeaning them.”
The bill also requires the ultrasound to be performed by a “qualified medical professional trained in sonography and working under the supervision of a physician” who is licensed by the state.
The legislation is modeled after a Texas law, but Womick said his bill is “less invasive” because it requires an external ultrasound instead of an internal ultrasound. However, Womick’s bill does not include an exception to the requirement for victims of rape or incest—unlike the Texas law.
After Amendment 1 was passed, House Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville), who is facing a challenge by Womick for his speakership, promised at least three bills to restrict access to abortion would be introduced and considered during the upcoming legislative session.
Among the expected legislation is a mandatory waiting period and forced counseling requirement and inspection requirements for all facilities that provide abortion services.
If the bill is passed and signed by the governor after the state legislature convenes on January 13, the bill would become law on July 1.