Tennessee lawmakers heard emotional testimony Wednesday on the subject of abortion — from a mother who says she had no choice but to end her pregnancy in the second trimester.
It was part of a debate over whether to restrict abortions past 20 weeks. The proposal is modeled after an Ohio law that takes effect this year and is meant to push the legal definition of a fetus' "viability" to 20 weeks — about a month earlier than it's usually assumed.
Hadleigh Tweedall had a second-trimester abortion. Her baby, a girl she and her husband had named Grace, was filling with fluid and would almost certainly die in the womb, a condition known as non-immune hydrops.
Even under Tennessee current laws, Planned Parenthood and her doctors could not perform the procedure, so Tweedall had to go out of state. She described the day on which the abortion took place as the worst of her life, in part because she felt a fugitive who'd been forced to flee Tennessee to receive a procedure that was being treated as taboo.
The experience changed how Tweedall views abortion.
"I had never given much thought to the pro-choice stance until the laws put in place failed me, leaving me alone, scared and, quite frankly, very angry," she says.
Tweedall says she decided to share her story so people would understand the circumstances under which women seek second-trimester abortions.
"Many anti-abortion friends have actually said to me, 'But your situation is different,'" she says. "While that was comforting to hear at first, I now believe that thinking is the root 0f the problem."
The proposal's sponsor, East Tennessee Republican Matthew Hill, is pressing ahead, though. He says his measure, HB 1189/SB 1180, would exempt procedures for medical emergencies that put the woman's physical health at risk.
The House Health Subcommittee panel gave the proposal an initial vote of confidence. It would make Tennessee's cutoff for an abortion among the toughest in the nation, but it's still weeks away from coming up for final consideration.
'Heartbeat bill' rejected
On a related note, the same House panel voted down a bill that could have banned abortions as early as six weeks into pregnancy.
HB 108/SB 244 would have prohibited abortions upon the detection of a heartbeat. The House Health Subcommittee voted 5-4 to put off any consideration of the proposal until 2018.
That heartbeat bill was opposed by Tennessee Right to Life, which said it was unlikely to hold up in court.