Tennessee governor signs comprehensive pro-life bill

July 14, 2020

Earlier this week in Tennessee, Gov. Bill Lee signed what he called “arguably the most conservative, pro-life piece of legislation in the country.” Within an hour, a federal district court judge appointed by President Trump granted a temporary restraining order to halt implementation of the bill while a lawsuit from Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and other pro-abortion groups moves forward in court.

National pro-life groups have praised Gov. Lee and Tennessee’s national leadership on passing what he has called perhaps the most important bill he will sign as governor. The comprehensive legislation has numerous pro-life, pro-woman components that could make the litigation against it the front lines in the fight not only to overturn Roe v. Wade, but also serve as a legislative prototype on how to defend the dignity of every life and the most vulnerable in our society.

As followers of Christ, we know that every life is made in the image of God. And we believe that government exists to defend the dignity of everyone.

As a constitutional attorney, what first struck me about Tennessee’s innovative and comprehensive pro-life bill was the first 12.5 pages filled with 77 sections of legislative findings about abortion jurisprudence, the science of human development, and assertions of Tennessee’s “legitimate, substantial, and compelling” interests. Like the Missouri bill this legislation was inspired by, this is not a simple heartbeat bill. Rather, with knowledge that the law would be challenged in court, Gov. Lee and Tennessee’s legislators prepared for a legal challenge by making it very clear what they were doing and why they were doing it.

What makes this bill unique

So what is in the bill, and what makes it so unique? Here are just a few of its notable elements:

A requirement that the abortion doctor perform an ultrasound, detect the baby’s heartbeat, determine the baby’s stage of development, and describe details about the baby depicted in the ultrasound.

A ladder provision of abortion bans. This provision exists to achieve the maximum restriction on abortions that courts will allow while also showing that all determinations about abortion involve line-drawing exercises about what life is worthy of protection under the law and what life is allowed to be legally extinguished.

By including multiple abortion bans and a severability clause, any abortion bans found to be unconstitutional in court would be eliminated from the bill, leaving the most restrictive law on the books. Additionally, the legislative findings lay out the scientific and medical rationale for the abortion restriction at each stage, a small amount of which I’m including below.

A ban on abortions when the doctor knows the woman is seeking an abortion because of the sex of the unborn child, the race of the unborn child, or because of a screening indicating Down syndrome. A significant majority of children diagnosed with Down Syndrome are aborted in the United States each year.

Requires a sign in abortion clinics that reads, “Recent developing research has indicated that mifepristone alone is not always effective in ending a pregnancy. It may be possible to avoid, cease, or even reverse the intended effects of a chemical abortion utilizing mifepristone if the second pill has not been taken. Please consult with a healthcare professional immediately.”

Every life is worth protecting

When Gov. Lee signed the bill, he said, “Life is precious, and everything that is precious is worth protecting.”  

As followers of Christ, we know that every life is made in the image of God. And we believe that government exists to defend the dignity of everyone. It’s why we support comprehensive pro-life bills that protect the life of pre-born children and uphold the dignity of their mothers. It’s why we continue the hard work of racial reconciliation, criminal justice reform, and caring for the marginalized in our society. And it’s why we fight to uplift the voices of our neighbors with disabilities

Being pro-life means defending the dignity of every person at every stage of development. I am thankful that my home state of Tennessee has taken a step in that direction this week.

Palmer Williams

Palmer Williams serves as General Counsel and Senior Policy Advisor for the ERLC.  Palmer specializes in legal and policy analysis related to international human rights, sanctity of life, and government affairs. As a licensed attorney specializing in international law, she has extensive experience advocating for human rights on the international stage, … Read More