The “Heartbeat Bill,” sponsored by Rep. Micah Van Huss, R-Jonesborough, and Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, would ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat was detected, which usually happens at around five weeks.
House Health Subcommittee chairman Rep. Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, motioned to table the legislation until next year due to ongoing political changes and a future Supreme Court justice appointment.
The bill would conflict with the 1973 Supreme Court case, Roe v. Wade, which legally permitted abortions until fetal viability, or around 24 weeks.
Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery III gave his opinion on the legislation earlier this month.
“While some of the proposed changes are constitutionally defensible, the proposed prohibition on abortion, absent a medical emergency after the detection of a fetal heartbeat and before viability of the fetus, is constitutionally suspect,” Slatery said.
Slatery also pointed to court decisions in Arkansas and North Dakota to support his opinion.
“Recent judicial decisions support the conclusion that the proposed legislative prohibition upon pre-viability abortions after detection of a fetal heartbeat is constitutionally suspect, but that the other proposed changes to [Tennessee abortion laws] are constitutionally defensible,” he said.
Van Huss said earlier this year he believed his bill would equate to a roughly 90-percent ban on abortions in the state. He said he introduced the bill due to optimism about President Donald Trump’s future Supreme Court pick after the death of Antonin Scalia, which could have strong impacts on abortion legislation.
On Feb. 1, Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in Colorado, to replace Scalia on the Supreme Court. Gorsuch has yet to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
“I am hopeful, with President Trump appointing pro-life conservatives to the Supreme Court, that if this legislation would ever make it that far, that those folks would rule in favor of pro-life citizens,” Van Huss said.