Legislative Lowlights: Tennessee GOP Clears the Way to Outlaw Abortion If ‘Roe’ Falls

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Roundups Law and Policy

Legislative Lowlights: Tennessee GOP Clears the Way to Outlaw Abortion If ‘Roe’ Falls

Brie Shea

Tennessee Republicans are pushing for the end of legal abortion in the state of 6.7 million people if the U.S. Supreme Court strikes a blow to Roe vs. Wade.

Rewire.News tracks anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ legislation as it works its way through state legislatures. Here’s an overview of the bills we’re watching.

The Tennessee General Assembly is advancing a measure that would make Tennessee the seventh state to have a “trigger law” on the books criminalizing abortion if Roe v. Wade falls; Republican lawmakers in Illinois want to ban gender-affirming surgery coverage from the state’s Medicaid program; and more unconstitutional abortion bans—a “heartbeat bill” and a ban on the most common method of second-trimester abortion—were signed into law.


State Sen. Gerald Allen (R-Tuscaloosa) on Thursday introduced SB 272, which would prohibit the state from funding a person or entity that performs, induces, refers, or counsels in favor of abortion care. The measure would prohibit the state from distributing grants to any affiliate of an abortion provider. The bill is based on copycat legislation drafted by Chris Sevier—an ex-lawyer turned electronic dance music producer—who is known for filing frivolous lawsuits in state and federal courts in an attempt to undermine LGBTQ rights. Sevier has authored several pieces of legislation targeting abortion and same-sex marriage by associating them with the religion of secular humanism. While SB 272 doesn’t include any secular humanism language, it’s nearly identical to the rest of the language found in anti-choice secular humanism measures being considered in Kansas, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and Tennessee.

Roe has collapsed in Texas, and that's just the beginning.

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The measure is pending in the state senate governmental affairs committee.


The Arkansas General Assembly passed the “Perinatal Palliative Care Information Act” last Monday. The measure would require informed consent for abortion to include perinatal palliative care information for patients carrying a fetus with a life-threatening anomaly. A physician who fails to provide the information prior to an abortion would have their medical license revoked. Three Democratic lawmakers joined Republicans to pass the measure in a 29-5 vote: state Sens. Eddie Cheatham (D-Crossett), Bruce Maloch (D-Magnolia), and Larry Teague (D-Nashville).

The measure is awaiting gubernatorial approval.

Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed SB 278 into law last week. The measure increases the state’s medically unnecessary waiting period before abortion care from 48 to 72 hours. Five states (Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Utah) require abortion patients to wait three days after their initial consultation before obtaining an abortion. The Arkansas measure requires abortion facilities be located within 30 miles of a hospital that provides gynecological or surgical services, and requires physicians to report on abortions that result in a live birth.

Hutchinson has signed several anti-choice measures into law this session: an 18-week abortion ban, a “trigger law” criminalizing abortion if Roe v. Wade falls, a ban on abortion if the physician believes the pregnant patient is seeking it due to a fetal Down syndrome diagnosis, a medication abortion “reversal” law, an abortion complication reporting measure, a state funding ban on certain types of research involving human embryos, and a measure establishing certain qualifications for physicians who perform abortions.

SB 278 will take effect in July.


The Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services this month announced the state’s Medicaid program will soon provide gender-affirming surgery coverage for some transgender adults. Under the proposed rules, Medicaid members who are at least 21 years old and have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria would be eligible for genital and breast-related surgeries. The policy hasn’t yet been finalized, but Republican lawmakers are already trying to kill it. State Rep. Darren Bailey (R-Louisville) on Thursday introduced HB 3831, which would stop the state’s Medicaid program from providing coverage for gender-affirming surgery. It’s the second anti-transgender bill to be considered this year in the state legislature. The other measure—HB 3515—would prohibit doctors from providing transgender minors with transition-related health care.

Both measures are pending in the state house rules committee.


The GOP-dominated Montana legislature last week passed SB 100, which would require abortion providers to inform patients of the opportunity to view ultrasound images of the fetus and listen to the fetal heart tone prior to an abortion. A person who performs or attempts to perform an abortion without informing their patients of the opportunity would face a $1,000 fine. The bill—which passed the state senate in February—passed the state house Thursday in a 58-41 vote. Democratic state Rep. Jonathan Windy Boy (D-Box Elder) joined Republicans to pass the bill.

SB 100 nows heads to Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock, who has not indicated whether he will sign it into law.

The state house judiciary committee on Thursday advanced SB 354, which would make it a felony to deny “medically appropriate and reasonable medical care” to infants born after a failed abortion. The “Born-Alive Infant Protection Act” copies legislation drafted by Americans United for Life (AUL) and is based on the myth that doctors murder newborns delivered alive during an abortion. The bill—which cleared the state senate this month—passed its second reading in the state house on Monday.

The measure’s final reading and possible vote is scheduled for April 16.

The state senate judiciary committee on Thursday approved a measure to ban abortion after 20 weeks. Except in cases of medical emergency, HB 500 would prohibit physicians from performing or inducing an abortion without first determining the probable gestational age of the fetus. It would be a felony to perform an abortion once a fetus has been determined to be at 20 weeks’ gestation. The so-called Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act is based on copycat legislation drafted by the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), and it employs junk science that falsely claims a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks. A nearly identical ban was struck down last week in North Carolina.

The measure—which passed the state house in March—is now pending in the full state senate.

North Carolina

The state senate on Monday passed SB 359, which would require doctors and nurses to protect and care for children born alive after a failed abortion. A health-care practitioner who fails to provide the appropriate degree of care to a child born alive would face felony charges. Any person who intentionally performs or attempts to perform an overt act that kills a child born alive would be punished for murder. It bears repeating—this type of legislation is based on a myth and only serves to vilify reproductive health-care providers. Two Democrats joined Republicans to pass the measure in a 28-19 vote: state Sens. Ben Clark (D-Hoke) and Don Davis (D-Greene).

The measure is scheduled for a floor debate in the state house on Tuesday.

North Dakota

Republican Gov. Doug Burgum signed HB 1546 into law, a measure which bans the most common method of second-trimester abortion. Except in cases of medical emergency, it would be a felony—punishable by up to five years in prison—to perform a D and E abortion. The legislation contains a provision that delays the law from taking effect until a federal appeals court or the U.S. Supreme Court allows its enforcement. Mississippi and West Virginia prohibit the procedure, but similar bans have been blocked or temporarily enjoined by courts in eight states. A similar ban is awaiting signature in Indiana.


Republican Gov. Mike DeWine signed SB 23 into law on Thursday, banning abortion as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, before many people know they’re pregnant. The measure requires a physician performing an abortion to first determine if the fetus has a detectable heartbeat. Except when necessary to prevent serious injury or death of the pregnant person, abortion is prohibited if the fetus has a detectable heartbeat. A physician who performs an abortion in violation of the law would be charged with a felony—punishable by up to a year in prison. Legislators in 15 states have introduced “heartbeat bans” this session. Ohio is the fourth state this year (after Georgia, Kentucky, and Mississippi) to pass the near total abortion ban. The measure in Georgia is awaiting signature. The measures in Kentucky and Mississippi are already facing legal challenges. Similar bans have been blocked in Arkansas and North Dakota.

The ACLU of Ohio is planning to file a legal challenge against the law, which is scheduled to take effect in July.


State Rep. Kate Klunk (R-Hanover) on Monday introduced HB 321, a measure to prohibit abortion if it’s being sought because the fetus has been diagnosed with Down syndrome. Anyone who violates this provision would be charged with a felony of third degree—punishable by three-and-a-half to seven years in prison. A physician who performs an abortion in violation of the law would also be guilty of “unprofessional conduct” and may lose their medical license. The bill includes exceptions for medical emergencies and pregnancies that are the result of rape or incest. Similar bans have been signed into law this year in Arkansas and Utah. This type of legislation—which attempts to pit reproductive rights against the rights of those with disabilities—has been blocked by courts in Indiana and Ohio.

The measure—with 86 sponsors—has been referred to the state house health committee. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) has vetoed many anti-choice bills that have passed the Republican-held legislature.


In a 66-24 vote, the state house last Monday passed the “Life Appropriation Act,” which would prohibit the state from funding a person or entity that performs, induces, refers, or counsels in favor of abortion care. The bill—drafted by the aforementioned Chris Sevier—argues that the state can’t fund abortion since abortion is “inseparably linked” to the religion of secular humanism. The Tennessee bill clarifies that it would only become operative if the federal government allows a state agency to deny family planning funds to an organization that performs abortions, which the Trump administration is poised to do with its Title X restrictions.

The measure was transferred on Thursday to the state senate and passed on its first consideration. The bill still needs to pass through committee before a full state senate vote.

The state senate judiciary committee last Tuesday approved SB 1257, which would trigger a statewide abortion ban if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. The bill would make it a Class C felony—punishable by up to 15 years in prison—to perform or attempt to perform an abortion. The Tennessee state house last week revived the bill’s companion, HB 1490, which had failed to pass out of a subcommittee in March. That bill will now skip reconsideration in the house subcommittee and go straight to consideration in the full health committee. Six states (Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Dakota, and North Dakota) have “trigger laws” on the books that would criminalize abortion should conservatives on the U.S. Supreme Court strike down Roe v. Wade.

SB 127 now heads to the state senate floor, while HB 1490 has a committee hearing scheduled April 16.


The state senate last Tuesday passed SB 23, which would require physicians to provide medically appropriate and reasonable life-saving and life-sustaining medical care and treatment to anyone born alive after an abortion. Measures like SB 23 are based on the anti-choice myth that fetuses often survive attempted abortions. A physician who fails to provide the necessary treatment would face up to ten years in prison and a $100,000 fine. Two Democratic lawmakers joined Republicans to pass the measure in a 21-10 vote: state Sens. Eddie Lucio (D-Brownsville) and Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo).

The measure now heads to the state house for consideration.