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Legislature Considering Bills Relating to Pregnancy

Lawmakers are discussing a proposal to ensure that women seeking abortions are acting uncoerced; whether violence against pregnant women should be punished more harshly; and a new law to allow families of stillborns to obtain birth certificates if they so chose.

A House subcommittee this week delayed voting on an abortion bill but passed two other measures relating to pregnant women.

Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet, is sponsoring a measure, House Bill 3301, that would require facilities that perform abortions to post signs reminding patients that’s it illegal to force or coerce a woman into an abortion.

Currently, coercing or forcing a woman to have an abortion is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail.

Under the legislation, the woman seeking an abortion must also sign a written consent form before going forward with the procedure. Lynn’s bill would also require that additional information be given to minors.

The proposed legislation would also allow women to sue for damages if there were no signs posted, or if the provisions concerning minors weren’t met, which alarmed Rep. Vance Dennis, R-Savannah.

“It’s arguable you could be creating an action just because the sign is not posted even though the minor read the language and signed the informed consent,” he said. “It gives me a little bit of concern.”

Other legislators questioned whether the bill would apply to emergency rooms and certain other medical facilities.

Beth Barry, with the Tennessee Hospital Association, said the legislation could put hospitals in a difficult position during emergency situations.

“We could be in an emergent situation with a comatose minor but be forced to choose between ignoring the informed consent portion of the bill and treating the minor to save the life,” she said.

At Dennis’ request, the subcommittee put off a vote on the bill until next Wednesday to address those issues.

Meanwhile, the subcommittee advanced a bill strengthening penalties for those convicted of perpetrating violent acts against pregnant women, and another to allow women to obtain birth certificates for stillborns.

Rep. Joshua Evans, R-Greenbriar, is sponsoring House Bill 3495, which allows a fetus to be legally classified as a victim if a pregnant woman is assaulted or killed.

“It changes simply the language for the assault and homicide statute from the age of viability for a pregnant female to just her being pregnant as 26 other states do,” he said.

The legislation could be affected by a pending opinion about the matter that’s been requested from the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office.

The companion bill in the Senate is currently assigned to the Judiciary Committee and has yet to see action taken on it.

The bill allowing women to get stillborn baby birth certificates, House Bill 3286, passed after the subcommittee heard from two mothers.

One, Beth Barnett, of Cordova, told the panel she lost a baby approximately 28-30 weeks into her pregnancy.

“To us, he was our child,” she told the panel. “(My children) have to have something to relate to understand what happened to their brother. I didn’t know what to tell them. There was nothing there that told me he was ever recognized as anything but a bad procedure that happened in the hospital.”

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Glen Casada, R-Oak Grove. The companion bill in the Senate is awaiting a floor vote.

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