Tennessee subcommittee spikes ‘trigger’ abortion ban bill

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The Tennessee State Capitol Building in downtown Nashville is seen in this photo.

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee lawmakers on Wednesday spiked a measure to ensure most abortions would be outlawed should the U.S. Supreme Court overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision.

A House subcommittee blocked the measure in a narrow 4-3 vote, with two Republican members voting with Democrats to stop the bill without explanation.

However, the move comes as the GOP-dominant statehouse is considering a separate anti-abortion measure that would block abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, or around six weeks into pregnancy.

While the heartbeat ban overwhelmingly passed the Tennessee House earlier this year, Senate Republicans have warned it raises too many legal concerns and instead they prefer the so-called “trigger” bill to advance. According to the Senate, this would give enough time for Tennessee to see how other states handle legal challenges to heartbeat ban measures.

Most recently, GOP Senate Speaker Randy McNally told reporters he doesn’t want to enact legislation that would result in the state in the “losing side” of a court battle. At the same time, newly elected Gov. Bill Lee has promised to sign the heartbeat ban should it make it on his desk.

Louisiana, Mississippi, North Dakota and South Dakota have similar laws on the books triggering abortion bans if the nation’s high court overturns the 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide. Kentucky and Missouri are considering enacting such bills this year.

Relatedly, a handful of Republican states are also working to pass heartbeat ban bills as part of an ongoing national effort to curb abortions.

The overall goal is to force a legal challenge to the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that established a nationwide right to abortion and possibly upend other rulings that have determined states cannot place undue burdens on a woman’s constitutional right to abortion before a fetus is viable — typically between 24 and 28 weeks.

Republican Rep. Micah Van Huss — the sponsor of the heartbeat ban — was one of the “nay” votes on Wednesday and offered no notice or explanation in advance. Rep. Matthew Hill, a fellow Republican and vocal advocate of the heartbeat ban bill, also voted no.

Van Huss and Hill both hosted an anti-abortion rally earlier this month to garner support of the heartbeat ban bill, where notably Lee attended to publicly throw his support behind the proposal.

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