Both chambers of the Tennessee Legislature have approved a duo of bills aimed at reestablishing state government regulation of abortions.
One bill requires women to wait 48 hours before obtaining an abortion. The other, that abortion clinics be regulated by the state. Both passed Tuesday along mostly partisan lines in the Republican dominated lower chamber. Having already been approved in the Senate, the bills go now to Gov. Bill Haslam, who has indicated he’ll likely sign them.
Passage of the measures represents a milestone for anti-abortion activists, who last year successfully convinced a majority of the state’s voters to pass an amendment declaring that abortions are not protected under the Tennessee Constitution. That constitutional revision was presented to the voters in an effort to nullify a Tennessee Supreme Court decision in 2000 that struck down several state abortion laws on the books at the time, including certain restrictions on outpatient abortions and a mandatory waiting period.
Democrats argued strenuously against both the abortion bills on the House floor, alleging that they amount to transparent attempts to make obtaining abortions more difficult and expensive for women.
Republican Susan Lynn of Mt. Juliet, who sponsored the proposal that clinics be monitored by the state as surgery centers, rejected that charge. She said new regulations are necessary “to protect the health and safety of women.”
“We are placing the health of women and the welfare of women in jeopardy by not having licensure and inspections,” Lynn said. She added, “The Legislature, in its wisdom, long ago saw fit to have these facilities licensed and inspected (but) the courts did remove that on a legal technicality.”
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart of Nashville challenged Lynn to show examples in Tennessee “where someone was injured” at an abortion facility as a result of poor government oversight. When she did not, Stewart suggested the bill was motivated more by political than safety concerns.
Lynn responded that proponents of the bill want to impose the regulations in hopes of averting future misfortunes. “Do we need something terrible to happen to somebody? No, we don’t, we don’t,” she said. “We should just be wise and have clinics licensed and inspected, for the health and safety of women.”
The measure, HB1368, passed 79-17.
The bill to mandate a 48-hour waiting period after a woman first approaches a physician about obtaining an abortion was subject to about an hour of debate. Democrats derided the measure as an attack on women’s rights.
Rep. John Ray Clemmons of Nashville said the stipulation “will have the ultimate effect of creating a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking to exercise her constitutional right to choice.”
Rep. Johnnie Turner of Memphis argued that it “works disproportionately against poor women who cannot afford to fly to another state to have an abortion.”
The Republican sponsor of the measure, Matthew Hill of Jonesborough, countered that the waiting period is necessary for women to weigh the potential risks and consequences of getting an abortion.
“We are not restricting access to abortion in the state of Tennessee,” said Hill. “What we are doing is making all the information and facts available to the ladies and to the girls in order to make a careful and fully informed decision.”
He said waiting periods exist already in states surrounding Tennessee. He said the United States Supreme Court has twice upheld so-called “informed consent.”
The bill passed 79-18.