With protesters chanting nearby, the Tennessee state Senate on Monday passed a controversial measure that will ban abortions in the state after 20 weeks, which some argued could land the state in court over the bill’s constitutionality.
The bill (SB1180/HB1189), dubbed the “Tennessee Infants Protection Act,” has been split in committee votes, and the concerns of potential court action have been a common point of criticism, though the Senate sponsor Sen. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, has said the legislation was based on a similar law in Ohio that has not been challenged in court.
Senators approved the measure 27-3 after lengthy debate about the bill. Senate Republicans unanimously approved the measure. Three of the five Senate Democrats voted against the measure and two did not vote.
The full House is expected to take up the measure this week also.
Senate leaders said late last week when the bill was delayed that they felt the measure would stand up in court, despite concerns from state Attorney General Herbert Slatery that the measure was “constitutionally suspect.” Slatery said last week that he would defend the proposed law even with the concerns.
Gov. Bill Haslam told reporters on Monday that he would consider a veto when the legislation gets to his desk.
"We will see," Haslam said. "When it gets to us, we'll have those conversations both with the Attorney General our own review of the bill before we make our decision."
The proposed law would require tests for viability to be done at the 20-week mark. Hensley, a physician, said there is a 4-week margin of error in initial gestational estimates and babies at the 24-week mark are medically viable, and that courts have upheld other 20-week bans before. Doctors would be subject to up to a felony charge and, if convicted, would face up to 15 years in prison.
"We want every child that has a chance at life to have a chance," Hensley said.
He said the proposed law "would do nothing" to change current abortions that happen before 20 weeks in the state. As a practical matter, none of Tennessee’s abortion clinics perform abortions past 16 weeks.