NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Despite already enacting one of the strictest abortion bans in the U.S., Tennessee Republicans on Tuesday began advancing yet another anti-abortion measure strategically written to sidestep federal court challenges.
The proposal is almost a direct copycat of legislation currently enacted in Texas, which not only prohibits doctors from performing abortion before most people know they're pregnant but also allows private citizens to file civil lawsuits against anyone who helps someone else get the procedure after six weeks into pregnancy.
The Tennessee version introduced Tuesday would ban all abortions rather than allowing a patient to have a six-week window. But similar to the Texas model, it still would make legal challenges difficult because the government would not be the enforcer.
“This bill is modeled directly after the legislation passed in Texas last year. Abortions since that bill has been passed have dropped 60% in Texas,” said GOP Rep. Rebecca Alexander, the legislation's sponsor, while addressing a House subcommittee.
The proposed abortion ban does not have an exception for rape or incest, but those who impregnated a patient "through an act of rape, sexual assault, or incest” would not be allowed to sue an abortion provider. However, a rapist's relatives could each bring a civil action.
“I think you may not understand what your bill does ... this allows people who have no knowledge, no standing, that have not been harmed to bring a lawsuit against any doctor that they believe has performed an abortion,” said Democratic Rep. Bob Freeman.
“My intent is to bring a bill that protects the unborn life in this state,” Alexander responded.
The House panel agreed to advance the bill, but it still would have to clear the full House and Senate chambers before it could get before Gov. Bill Lee's desk for his signature.
For decades, Republicans across the U.S. have sought to chip away the constitutional right to abortion, which is protected under the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling. Yet the Texas law has been one of the rare strict measures to continue to be implemented even as it faces court challenges.
While at least seven states introduced bills mimicking the Texas anti-abortion law earlier this year, to date only Idaho's GOP-controlled Statehouse has sent a version to the state's governor for approval.
In Tennessee, Gov. Lee had previously signed off on a sweeping anti-abortion ban limiting the procedure at around the six week mark. However, the 2019 law has never been been enacted after several abortion providers quickly filed lawsuits against the state and federal courts agreed to block the law's implementation as the challenge makes it way through court.
Lee has been vocal in his opposition to abortion, but he has held off on throwing his support behind the Texas-style legislation.
“We're currently in a situation with the existing legislation in place that is being reviewed by the court and that's a very important process. My sense is that we need to play that out ... we have a very clear footprint on our strategy,” Lee told reporters earlier this month.