Right to Life Mourns Passing of Senator Douglas Henry
Sponsor of Tennessee's First Pro-Life Laws
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."
In 1980, Tennessee became the 16th state to approve language calling for a constitutional convention to draft a Human Life Amendment, a resolution sponsored by Senator Henry. Throughout the years, Senator Henry also sponsored pro-life bills to require parental notification and consent, to limit tax-payer funding of abortions, and to place Amendment 1 (SJR 127) on the ballot for a public vote. In 2014, Senator Henry served as an honorary co-chair for the Yes on 1 campaign.
"Today pro-life Tennesseans are filled with respect and gratitude for a public servant who devoted his public life to defending the right to life of every Tennessean," said Harris. "Senator Henry was a pioneer in the struggle to restore protections for human life and we will do our utmost to carry on his work and legacy."