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Tennessee Right to Life Legislative Action Center



NASHVILLE, MARCH 6, 2017 - After the 1973 Roe v Wade decision struck down abortion laws across the nation, Tennessee's first pro-life protections were sponsored by Senator Douglas Henry, a conservative Nashville Democrat. Just weeks after the decision, Henry led legislative efforts to ensure that abortion would be regulated as strongly as possible under the court's wrong ruling.

"Because of the Supreme Court's decision which in my opinion is horrendous, until a national amendment can be achieved, we must put a law on the books of our state," state Senator Curtis Person declared on May 2, 1973. "The bill I voted for, today, in my opinion and as explained by the Sponsor, Senator Douglas Henry, is the most stringent law to control abortions we can pass under the Supreme Court ruling."

Henry's bill, Tennessee's first post-Roe abortion law, established conscience rights for healthcare providers, reporting requirements for abortionists, hospitalization for later abortions, and criminal penalties for abortion providers found guilty of violating the laws. The early pro-life bill also criminalized coerced abortion and stipulated that only licensed physicians could perform abortions.

"In the weeks and months following the Roe decision, it was not clear what limits, if any, the Supreme Court would allow states to place on the newly claimed fundamental right to abortion," said Brian Harris, president of Tennessee Right to Life.  "Senator Henry understood that without any abortion regulations at all, the lives of women, girls and unborn children would remain at grave risk and Senator Henry took the lead in guiding a nascent pro-life movement that would benefit from his leadership for the next forty years."

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Please encourage your state legislators to work with Tennessee Right to Life in support of meaningful pro-life proposals which strengthen our state's abortion laws----not threaten them.  Click Here to Contact Members of the TN House Health Subcommittee Today!

Pro-life Tennesseans made history in 2014 when voters passed pro-life Amendment 1.  Unfortunately, Planned Parenthood supporters immediately filed suit in federal court claiming that the state's method of counting votes violated the rights of pro-abortion voters.  District Federal Chief Judge Kevin Sharp agreed and ordered a recount and suggested the possible voiding of election results.

Since that time Sharp has stayed the demand for the recount pending the outcome of Tennessee's appeal to the 6th circuit.  Additionally, Sharp has unexpectedly announced his retirement effective April 15, 2017.

A separate lawsuit brought by independent owner-operator of abortion facilities in Bristol, Nashville and Memphis seeks to strike down several statutes passed as a result of Amendment 1's approval including informed consent and a 48-hour waiting period for women and girls considering abortion, and heightened inspection and licensing standards for abortion facilities.  Also challenged is the requirement that abortion providers hold admitting privileges at a local hospital. At present the informed consent, waiting period and admitting privileges laws are all uniformly enforced and are saving lives across the state.

Tennessee Right to Life is optimistic that Amendment 1 will stand and that the challenged pro-life protections will also be upheld.  However, similar provisions enacted by Texas were struck down last summer by the U.S. Supreme Court in Whole Woman's Health v Hellerstedt.  And even if Supreme Court nominee Gorsuch proves to be a reliable pro-life vote, we are still a vote short from a pro-life majority on the high court.

With all these factors in mind, Tennessee Right to Life has deep concerns at abortion bans proposed this year at the state Legislature. Such bills cannot currently be enforced as constitutional and may unintentionally provide a hostile court with the opportunity to re-affirm the wrong holdings of Roe v. Wade.  Such laws may also serve to influence the outcome of pro-abortion lawsuits against the Amendment and current protective laws.

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