By Chris Turner
Director of Communications, TBMB
There is almost a certainty that pro-life legislation in Tennessee eventually will be passed into law, but indecision abounds about what that legislation might look like when it finally lands on the governor’s desk for final approval.
One thing about which there is no longer indecision is Senate Bill 1236, or the “conception bill.”
“Senate Bill 1236 was an important bill that had strong support from Tennessee Baptists because it defined life as beginning at conception,” said Randy C. Davis, the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board’s executive director. “We fought for it, and thousands of Tennessee Baptists faithfully got behind it. Unfortunately, that bill is dead in the water as of last week.
“However, we still have an urgent opportunity to stand for life with a bill currently in the House of Representatives (HB 1962). I want to encourage Tennessee Baptists to again make their voices heard in the debate to protect our most vulnerable Tennesseans. It is important that they call their representatives and especially those on the Public Health Subcommittee.” (Names and contact information listed at bottom of article).
Davis is encouraged by HB 1962 because it includes the “Rule of Law Life Act.” The Rule of Law Life Act is the only piece of legislation filed in the House (and Senate) that is drafted in a way that would allow the state of Tennessee to challenge Roe v. Wade’s unconstitutional usurpation of the state’s authority to make abortion policy for Tennessee and the rest of the nation.
The Rule of Law Life Act uses the Ninth Amendment and a number of U.S. Supreme Court precedents to make a constitutional argument that the Supreme Court’s “interpretation of “liberty” conflicts with a constitutionally correct interpretation of the words “life” and “person” in the 14th Amendment. It is based on the legal and medical testimony in the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearings last August.
“It is a nuanced legal argument but an important nuance,” Davis said. “The Rule of Law Life Act restores the opportunity for Tennesseans to define life as beginning at conception. If we are going to introduce a law to protect unborn children, why not introduce one that goes all the way instead of part of the way? Our legislators have an opportunity to not only protect life in Tennessee, but possibly end the tsunami of death that has washed over our country for nearly 50 years.”
In August 2019, a strong push was made for Senate Bill 1236 which had many backers, such as the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board and many like-minded pro-life advocacy groups. Davis appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee speaking on behalf of the Tennessee Baptist Convention and firmly advocated for SB 1236. While many other states have introduced pro-life laws and pending bills over the past three years, SB 1236 differentiated itself in two primary ways: Defining life as beginning at conception and its Constitutional foundation being the Ninth Amendment rather than the Fourteenth Amendment.
In January, Governor Bill Lee introduced what he called a, “comprehensive” pro-life bill (SB 2196) and that bill was approved last Tuesday by the Senate Judiciary Committee, effectively ending any further discussion of SB 1236. However, the governor’s bill is more of a “heartbeat” bill – allowing for the possible termination of unborn children prior to heartbeat detection – and some legal experts feel other parts of the bill would quickly be struck down by courts.
Davis said that if Tennessee Baptists want to have the greatest positive impact on HB 1962, the Rule of Law Life Act, they need to take action immediately.
“This is of the utmost urgency,” he said. “We need to act today (Monday, March 9). The House committee discusses this tomorrow (Tuesday March 10). I’d encourage Tennessee Baptists to call and follow up with an email. We stood for life last year. We’ll stand for life today. We will stand for life always.”
Representatives on the Public Health Subcommittee considering HB 1962’s future are:
- Bryan Terry (R), Committee Chair (615) 741-2180 firstname.lastname@example.org
- Jerry Sexton (R), Subcommittee Chairman (615) 741-2534 email@example.com
- Matthew Hill (R), (615) 741-2050 firstname.lastname@example.org
- Micah Van Huss (R), (615) 741-1717 email@example.com
- Ryan Williams (R), (615) 741-1875 firstname.lastname@example.org
- Vincent Dixie (D), (615) 741-1997 email@example.com
- Larry Miller (D), (615) 741-4453 firstname.lastname@example.org