Democrats will introduce legislation to restore access to reproductive healthcare in Tennessee

NASHVILLE — In response to the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, state Democratic lawmakers announced they would introduce legislation to restore access to reproductive healthcare in Tennessee.

Watch the full press conference here

Democrats say, their first legislative attempt will be to codify privacy and health protections previously guaranteed under the legal framework of Roe.

“Women should have the right to make the most personal and private decisions that affect their lives, their health and their families,” said Sen. Heidi Campbell (D-Nashville). “That’s why today we are announcing plans for legislation to start restoring reproductive rights in Tennessee… our Tennessee daughters deserve to grow up with the same rights and freedoms as our Tennessee sons.”

Campbell said the first piece of legislation would codify the privacy protections that existed nearly 50 years under Roe v. Wade.

Rep. Gloria Johnson

Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville) said allowing the current law to stand would be dire for women’s health, children forced into an under-resourced foster system, and the state economy as companies and workers choose pro-choice states for business.

“We may disagree about abortion policy, but there is no disputing facts: When women cannot access a safe and legal abortion, more women die. That’s legislative violence against women,” Rep. Johnson said. “It is unconscionable to me that we would force women to give birth against their will and then place those children into an adoption system that puts them at risk.”

Abortion bans are taking effect in 26 states. Under Tennessee law, all abortion will soon be made illegal due to a trigger ban that is scheduled to go into effect mid-August. Once its enacted, all abortion services are criminalized and could result in a felony for a doctor and 15 years in prison.

While there is a criminal defense for doctors who provide abortion services when a woman’s life is in danger, a doctor could still be charged, arrested and forced to prove their innocence in a criminal court. There are no exceptions in state law for other situations, such as rape, incest or sex trafficking.

There’s also no right to an abortion for a child who is a victim of rape or incest. From 2015 to 2019, state records show that 98 pregnancies were terminated in children between ages 10 to 14.

Sen. Jeff Yarbro (left) with Rep. Gloria Johnson, Rep. John Ray Clemmons and Rep. G.A. Hardaway.

“Tennessee’s trigger ban that goes into effect in August is a perfect demonstration of why you don’t want politicians drawing the line for the most intimate personal decision a woman and a family can make,” said Sen. Jeff Yarbro (D-Nashville). “As we deal with the realities of this current crisis, we’re going to be focused on numerous steps to fix the trigger law that’s gone into effect.”

Democrats described several policies that could be included in their legislation:

  • Establishing a clear, legal exception for an abortion to preserve the health and well-being of the mother;
  • Adding legal exceptions for victims of rape, incest and sex trafficking;
  • Adding patient-doctor privacy protections for telehealth care where abortion medication may be prescribed; and
  • Repealing criminal statutes targeting doctors who provide medically sound and appropriate care for their patients.

Beyond exceptions

If Tennessee’s new forced-birth policy stands, Sen. London Lamar (D-Memphis) said she would file legislation to improve pregnancy outcomes in state, where maternal and infant mortality rates rank among the worst in the nation.

Sen. London Lamar (at the podium) addresses

Three out of four pregnancy-associated deaths in Tennessee were deemed preventable, she said.

“If they’re going to make the claim that America is ‘pro-life,’ then they must be concerned with the quality of life at every stage from the womb to adulthood,” Sen. Lamar said. “Tennessee has underinvested in health and economic support for children and families — we’re among the states that are the least prepared to handle the challenges that will come with banning abortion access in this state.”

Sen. Lamar said she would focus on reforms to expand access to healthcare and services to address mental health and drug addition.

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