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Tennessee lawmakers consider taking Texas abortion bill a step further, to ban almost all abortions


A proposal circulating in the Tennessee legislature and obtained by WPLN News could effectively ban abortions in the state.

The language appears to go a step further than a new Texas law, which allows private citizens to sue anyone involved with providing an abortion.

The Texas law still allows for medication abortions up to six weeks of pregnancy. Tennessee’s proposal — as written now — is an outright ban, except when the mother’s life is endangered. The language is likely not final, says Will Brewer of Tennessee Right to Life. His organization has not yet weighed in with support.

A summary of the HB2779 amendment, rewriting the bill, says, “any person may bring civil action against any person or entity that performs an abortion or aids or abets, or intends to aid or abet, in the performance of an abortion, regardless of the knowledge of the abortion.” Those who are sued successfully would owe at least $10,000, along with other damages and attorney’s fees.

The “Human Life Protection Act,” as it’s been named, would only allow for abortion if it is done “to prevent death or irreversible bodily harm to the woman.” The House Health Subcommittee is scheduled to take a first vote on Tuesday, though meeting agendas can quickly change this late in the session.

Opponents of the Texas law assumed courts would overturn it. But so far they haven’t, including another blow to their legal challenge on Friday. Several Republican-led legislatures, including Idaho and Oklahoma, have been considering copycat measures, though mostly allowing abortions up to roughly six weeks.

Tennessee’s effort is led by first-term Rep. Rebecca Alexander, R-Jonesborough. Her office assistant said she was unavailable to comment over the weekend. Her legislative maneuver essentially rewrites another, less controversial abortion measure (HB2779) and limits the time the legislature has for formal and informal debate.

Sen. Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City, was the Senate sponsor of the original bill but tells WPLN News that he gave up that role to Sen. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon, on Friday, as the amendment circulated among lawmakers. Crowe says Pody is “more on top” of abortion issues but says he still plans to support the amended bill.

Tennessee lawmakers are also considering a bill this year that would ban pharmacists from filling prescriptions for medical abortions. This would limit the ability for out-of-state doctors to prescribe abortion medication to Tennessee residents.

Blake Farmer is Nashville Public Radio's senior health care reporter. In a partnership with Kaiser Health News and NPR, Blake covers health in Tennessee and the health care industry in the Nashville area for local and national audiences.
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