By Tom Strode
NASHVILLE — The Tennessee legislature has overwhelmingly approved a ban on post-viability abortions, drawing praise from the president of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board and the head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s ethics entity.
The House of Representatives voted 69-18 in favor of the Tennessee Infants Protection Act May 3, two days after the Senate passed the legislation in a 27-3 vote. Gov. Bill Haslam, who is considered pro-life, signed the bill into law on May 12.
The legislation prohibits an abortion on any unborn baby who is determined to be able to survive outside the womb with or without medical assistance. An exception exists in the case of a medical emergency for the mother. The measure requires a viability test beginning at the 20th week of pregnancy and establishes a state presumption of viability at 24 weeks since the mother’s last menstrual period.
“After a decade long struggle to get the proposal on our ballot, Tennesseans voted in 2014 to amend our state constitution to pave the way for this kind of common sense legislation protecting the unborn,” said Randy C. Davis, president and executive director of the TBMB.
“I’m thankful Tennessee Baptists worked hard, prayed much, and went to the polls to pass Amendment 1 three years ago. The Tennessee Protection of Infants Act is a result,” Davis said.
Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, also expressed his gratitude for the legislature’s action.
“No society can seriously call itself humane while 20-week-old unborn children are unprotected from the abortion industry,” Moore said in a written release. “We have much further to go as a government and as a culture in protecting the dignity of all human life, but this is a welcome step in the right direction.
“This bill is a common sense measure that will protect the unborn, mothers and families from deceptive and manipulative medical practices,” he said. “It deserves the support not only of those who identify as pro-life, but all who stand for dignity anywhere, and I look forward to this bill becoming law.”
Brian Harris, president of Tennessee Right to Life, thanked the legislators who supported the bill.
“Together we will help to ensure that the strongest possible law saves the largest number of women, girls, and unborn children from the horror of an elective abortion when the child could otherwise survive,” Harris said in a written statement.
An Ohio law enacted in 2011 provided the model for Tennessee’s proposal and has not been challenged in court, according to the National Right to Life Committee (NLRC).
Other states have taken a different approach in seeking to prohibit abortions in essentially the last half of pregnancy. Sixteen states have passed what is known as the Pain-capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would prohibit abortions on babies 20 weeks or more after fertilization based on scientific evidence that a child in the womb experiences pain by that point in gestation.
The states enacting such bans are Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, West Virginia, and Wisconsin, according to NRLC. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals invalidated Idaho’s law in 2015.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed a pain-capable bill in 2015, but the Senate rejected it.
— B&R Editor Lonnie Wilkey contributed to this story.