Tennessee Lawmakers Propose Slate of Anti-Choice Bills, Despite GOP Warnings

Tennessee lawmakers have introduced multiple anti-choice bills in the wake of a constitutional amendment approved by voters that permits state lawmakers to pass laws regulating abortion.

Tennessee lawmakers have introduced multiple anti-choice bills in the wake of a constitutional amendment approved by voters that permits state lawmakers to pass laws regulating abortion. Tennessee state capitol via Shutterstock

Tennessee lawmakers have introduced anti-choice bills in the wake of a constitutional amendment approved by voters that permits state lawmakers to pass harsh measures meant to restrict abortion and reproductive health access.

Tennessee’s 2015 anti-choice proposals have become commonplace in Republican-controlled state legislatures that have served as pipelines for abortion regulations. The incoming anti-choice measures come as some Tennessee Republican leaders caution against a no-holds-barred approach to restricting abortion.

Lawmakers in the state have introduced HB 2 and HB 13. HB 2, sponsored by Rep. Rick Womick (R-Rockvale), would force women seeking to terminate a pregnancy to receive an ultrasound before they have an abortion. SB 13, sponsored by state Sen. Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet), would reinstate the state’s forced counseling law that was struck down in 2000 by a state Supreme Court ruling.

The court ruled against laws that required a 24-hour waiting period before an abortion, mandated inspections for abortion clinics, and forced counseling for women seeking an abortion.

Sen. Mark Green (R-Clarksville) introduced SB 50, which would require both medical and surgical abortion care to be performed in a “licensed ambulatory surgical treatment center.”

Green, who has already introduced 15 bills, is reportedly a possible candidate for governor in 2018. Gov. Bill Haslam (R) was elected to his second term in November, and is term-limited in the next election cycle.

Allison Glass, state director of Healthy and Free TN, told the Memphis Flyer that the new ambulatory surgical center requirement is unnecessary and is “specifically designed to make care more expensive for individuals and to make it harder for health professionals to provide services.”

Glass said the legislation targets private abortion providers who don’t have an ambulatory surgical center license, even though they already adhere to professional standards required for those providing surgical or outpatient care.

The majority of the state’s abortion clinics are already licensed as ambulatory surgical treatment centers. Both Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region and the CHOICES Memphis Center for Reproductive Health would already meet the requirement.

Tennessee anti-choice lawmakers have passed multiple laws attempting to institute additional licensing requirements and regulations of abortion clinic facilities. Many of these laws have been ruled unconstitutional in state courts, including the Supreme Court ruling in 2000.

Despite these rulings, Tennessee still restricts access to abortion, including a ban on the use of telemedicine to provide abortion and restrictions on low-income women’s access to abortion.

“The simple fact is that abortion is a safe and well-regulated procedure with well-established, evidence-based guidelines for care. We urge legislators to oppose politically motivated bills like this one that are based on inaccurate claims about safety and that in reality push care out of reach for many women,” Glass said.

More anti-choice legislation is likely to be introduced.

Rep. Susan Lynn (R-Mt. Juliet) is reportedly preparing to introduce bills designed to tighten the state’s abortion regulations. Lynn told the Lebanon Democrat that the Tennessee Right to Life is working with an unnamed law firm to draft legislation that would reinstate the laws struck down by the state supreme court ruling in 2000.

In an email sent to supporters, Tennessee Right to Life officials outlined their 2015 legislative strategy to restore previously passed anti-choice laws that were struck down by state court rulings in 2000 and 2002.

“There are likely to be other bills floated but the focus of pro-life leadership is going to be limited to restoring these common-sense provisions which are both constitutionally proven and enjoy broad public support among Tennesseans on both sides of the abortion debate,” Brian Harris, president of Tennessee Right to Life, wrote in the email.

Some state lawmakers have cautioned against focusing too much on restricting abortion.

House Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville), who was re-elected as speaker over HB 2 sponsor Womick, told the Nashville Tennessean that the legislature should take up a limited amount of abortion restrictions in 2015.

“I’ve made it quite clear to my members I don’t want them to introduce things that are constitutionally suspect. I want us to be reasonable and not do anything to outlaw abortion,” said Harwell.

Haslam said that state policymakers should be wary of pushing their anti-choice agenda too far in the 2015 legislative session.

“I think anything we do, we should pay attention to what’s been ruled legal or not in other states,” Haslam told the Chattanooga Times Free Press. “Let’s not go charging up hills that other folks have charged up and have found were outside the law.”

The aggressive move to restrict abortion has motivated reproductive rights activists to action. Last week, reproductive rights advocates rallied outside the capitol in Nashville to oppose anti-choice legislative efforts. Upwards of 800 people attended the protest in below freezing weather.

Gloria Johnson, an activist who organized the march, told ThinkProgress that the strong showing is an indicator of the size of the opposition to anti-choice legislation. “I think it’s an indication there are a lot of people who are going to be heavily involved in this movement,” Johnson said.

SB 50 awaits committee assignment, as the state senate has yet to announce committee appointments.