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East TN lawmakers talk next steps with Tennessee's Abortion Trigger Law

Republican Senator Becky Duncan Massey said lawmakers need to clarify the intent of the law.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee's trigger law banning abortion procedures in the state went into effect Thursday. The law effectively bans all abortions and makes it a Class C felony for anybody who provides abortion services. 

The text of the statute offers "affirmative defenses," which can be used in court if someone is prosecuted for providing abortions. Those defenses are if the abortion was necessary to prevent the death of the pregnant woman, or prevent serious risk of impairment of a major bodily function of the woman. 

Sen. Richard Briggs (R-Knoxville) is a retired surgeon and a state lawmaker. Briggs said he is concerned the law doesn't have enough exceptions, including for ectopic pregnancies. 

"An ectopic pregnancy cannot be carried to term. But if it ruptures, the life of the mother could be in jeopardy," Briggs said. "The question is, do you have to wait until it ruptures to save her life?"

Briggs said, in other situations, the fetus won't survive outside of the womb. 

"What I would like to do as a first step, separate the medical issues where a pregnancy would need to be terminated versus an abortion, which is more an action of convenience to terminate a pregnancy," he said. 

Lt. Gov. Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) said he would evaluate bills to adjust the current abortion trigger law "as they make their way through the committee system," in a statement to 10News. 

"The most important thing is we protect the life of the unborn baby," McNally said. 

"We need to make clear what the trigger law meant," Senator Becky Duncan Massey (R-Knoxville) said. "Doctors should be concerned about saving the life of a mom," referencing the threat of prosecution for people who provide abortion services. 

Massey advocated for providing the life of the mother and irreparable harm to the body as exceptions rather than affirmative defenses. 

"I'm certainly open to reviewing recommendations from medical professionals that would bring more clarity to our legislative intent," said Rep. Jason Zachary (R-Knoxville).

"Today is a monumental win for life in Tennessee as our trigger law becomes effective," Zachary added. 

Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville) said she would like language in a bill that would codify Roe v. Wade into law. 

"They think it's just fine for a 10-year-old to carry her rapist's baby," Johnson said. "That is not where most Tennesseans are."

Johnson also said she would ask for language to create an exception for rape and incest and an exception for the life of the mother. 

Senators opposed to abortion in Tennessee celebrated what they called a "monumental win for life."

"The voters of this state and their General Assembly have affirmed time and time again that Tennessee is a pro-life state," McNally said.

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