After A Final Round Of Heated Debate, Tennessee Lawmakers Approve 20-Week Abortion Restrictions | Nashville Public Radio

After A Final Round Of Heated Debate, Tennessee Lawmakers Approve 20-Week Abortion Restrictions

May 3, 2017

The 20-week abortion measure is on its way to Gov. Bill Haslam's desk, as weeks of back and forth in the Tennessee legislature came to a head Wednesday on the floor of the state House of Representatives with a final round of heated debate.

The measure requires women to undergo additional testing if their doctors believe a fetus is past 20 weeks. If it's determined to be viable, an abortion could be performed only to protect the mother's life.

Fetuses aren't generally thought to be viable until after the 24th week of pregnancy, though the exact date varies. State Rep. Sherry Jones, D-Nashville, called it the latest example of the Tennessee legislature being out of step with the needs of women.

"What you need to do is punish men who can't keep their zippers up and can't keep their pants on," she told lawmakers in a speech on the House floor. "And you guys go ahead and laugh about it, but nothing ever happens to you when there's a pregnancy. Nothing."

The zingers aside, the measure would place Tennessee alongside states with the toughest abortion limits in the nation. About 20 states restrict abortions after 20 weeks, though the proposal in Tennessee has more stipulations than most.

Women would have to get two doctors' opinions that a fetus past 20 weeks isn't viable. Doctors that perform an abortion that late would be subject to prosecution and would then have to show in court that their medical judgments were valid.

Those who fail to do so would face three years or more in prison.

Democrats tried to add exceptions for rape and incest, but those were voted down. Jonesborough Republican Matthew Hill, the measure's sponsor, says there's no good reason to abort a pregnancy that far along.

"How anyone can advocate for the taking of that life, after science and medicine has deemed it to be able to survive as an individual human being, is beyond me," he said.

But the measure is unlikely to stop many abortions. Only about 1 percent happen past 20 weeks, and those that do usually are for medical reasons. No clinic in Tennessee provides abortions that late.

So the practical effect of the legislation could turn out to be a court battle.