Tennessee Lawmakers Consider Banning Abortion Once A Woman Knows She's Pregnant

Tennessee lawmakers are considering a total ban on abortion by cutting off access to the procedure once a woman knows she's pregnant. If the legislation is passed, it will be one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the United States.

State senators will reconvene this week to discuss a "fetal heartbeat" bill, which would prohibit abortion as early as six weeks into pregnancy. The measure was passed by the House of Representatives in March but stalled in the Senate.

More than 20 witnesses from both sides of the abortion debate will testify on the issue before the state's judiciary committee on Monday and Tuesday. During the two-day session, the committee will also discuss an 11-page amendment to the original fetal heartbeat bill that includes a drastic change to the definition of fetal viability.

Under Roe v. Wade, the Constitution protects a woman's right to abortion prior to the viability of a fetus. The Supreme Court considered viability to be the point at which a fetus can survive on its own outside of the womb, which is usually between 24 to 28 weeks into pregnancy.

But Tennessee lawmakers have proposed that viability is when a pregnancy can be detected, either with fetal cardiac activity or with increased levels of the HCG hormone. According to CBS News, the committee (which has seven Republicans and two Democrats) will likely approve of these changes. The amended bill would then be put up for a vote in January 2020.

Abortion rights activists have slammed the legislation as part of an ongoing unconstitutional attack on women. So far in 2019, nearly a dozen states have approved laws restricting abortion access. Six of those states banned the procedure as early as six or eight weeks into pregnancy.

"It continues to keep chipping away at opportunities for women to be self-determining," Cherisse Scott, founder and CEO of the reproductive justice organization SisterReach, told Newsweek about the Tennessee proposal.

abortion rights rally washington dc
Abortion rights activists rally in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on May 21, 2019. Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images

Scott will testify before the Senate committee on Tuesday, alongside other abortion rights activists from Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union. But she accused lawmakers of not "allowing there to be a fair advocacy fight" during the session by placing "pro-lifers" on the same roster as pro-abortion rights witnesses. She also alleged that there's been "a bit of weeding out" of personal stories from the testimonies.

"How do we truly know what women truly need if we're not interested in listening to the women who are most impacted?" Scott said. "So this is not about women, this is about power and control."

Republican lawmakers have admitted that the legislation, if passed, is unlikely to take effect. Instead, their goal is to have the measure go to court, where they could work up a challenge to the landmark 1973 abortion ruling.

"We want a vehicle to lead the Supreme Court to consider, I hope, overturning or at least chipping away at Roe v. Wade," state Senator Kerry Roberts told CBS.

Scott said that hopefully abortion rights activists will be able to "halt it before it goes that far."

"Hopefully there will be something shared that will convince these folks that this is a mistake, that this is not only harmful but could be detrimental to the lives of Tennesseeans. If, in fact, they are interested in the lives of Tennesseeans," she said.