Tennessee Right to Life backed Prenatal Life and Liberty, Unborn Child Dignity acts that Gov. Lee has signed into law
By Dan McWilliams
Tennessee Right to Life is celebrating two victories in the state legislature while at the same time watching an important appeals-court case and a Mississippi case going to the U.S. Supreme Court that could affect the future of abortion in the country.
Tennessee Right to Life’s priority legislation for the 2021 legislative session was the Prenatal Life and Liberty Act (HB 1252 and SB 1370), sponsored by Rep. Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby) and Sen. Mike Bell (R-Riceville).
The bill’s first purpose was to bring Tennessee civil law in line with its criminal code regarding unborn children. Before this legislation, a wrongful-death claim for an unborn child was only allowed for a child past the point of viability, while the criminal code recognized an unborn child at any stage of development.
Now in Tennessee law, a person can be charged with fetal homicide for killing a woman and her unborn child at any stage of development and can be held liable for civil charges as well.
Additionally, this legislation will prohibit lawsuits against doctors who fail to discover or disclose a child’s medical condition prior to the child’s birth. These “wrongful birth” and “wrongful life” lawsuits occur when the parents argue that abortion would have been preferable to birth and life and then seek monetary damages claiming the doctor’s breach of duty and omission.
“This part of the Prenatal Life and Liberty Act makes a strong statement in Tennessee law that abortion is never preferable to life, regardless of any medical conditions a child may have,” said Stacy Dunn, president of Tennessee Right to Life and director of the Knox County TRL chapter.
Tennessee Right to Life also actively supported the Unborn Child Dignity Act (HB 1181 and SB 0828), sponsored by Rep. Tim Rudd (R-Murfreesboro) and Sen. Janice Bowling (R-Tullahoma), which will require the burial or cremation of all fetal remains in the state of Tennessee.
Sponsors of the legislation pointed out during debate of the bill that Tennessee law already had provisions for how animal remains were handled, but no such law existed for the remains of preborn human beings.
“Tennessee Right to Life along with pro-life Tennesseans believe it should be public policy that the remains of unborn children be treated with as much respect and dignity as possible, and this bill will help ensure that,” Mrs. Dunn said.
Representatives from the organization And Then There Were None presented testimony during House and Senate committee hearings. As former employees of abortion facilities, these women provided legislators with a look into the horror of abortion as they spoke of what happens to the bodies of the tiny victims of abortion. One presenter pointed out that the Department of Health last year reported 10,880 abortions in Tennessee and then asked, “Where are those 10,880 bodies of aborted children last year in Tennessee?”
“The truth is a powerful lobbyist. When these women spoke of what they had seen in the abortion industry, there wasn’t much left to say,” Mrs. Dunn said.
The Prenatal Life and Liberty Act was signed by Gov. Bill Lee and became law on May 11. The governor signed the Unborn Child Dignity Act on May 6, and it took effect July 1.
Will Brewer, legislative liaison and legal counsel for Tennessee Right to Life, said “We are really proud of this legislative session. Gov. Lee signed two strong pro-life bills into law, which will go a long way in further defining the unborn child as a human and victim in Tennessee.
“The Unborn Child Dignity Act will require that all unborn victims of abortion be buried or cremated and, thus, disposed of in a dignified way. We heard testimony in committee from former abortion industry workers, who are now pro-life, who detailed all the horrendous ways that the abortion industry disposes of aborted remains without laws like this in place. At least now, these children will be disposed of with dignity, and more people were educated on the abortion industry’s gruesome practices.
“The Prenatal Life and Liberty Act will ensure that Tennessee’s civil law now matches its criminal law. Before this year, someone could be charged with double homicide for the murder of a woman and her unborn child, but you can only be sued civilly for money damages for the wrongful death of the child if that child is past 24 weeks. Now you can be sued or charged regardless of gestational age. It also prohibits parents from suing a doctor if they lacked genetic abnormality information and then claim that they would have rather aborted their child if they had known about the abnormality than to give birth to a special needs child,” Mr. Brewer concluded.
In another case, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals on April 23 granted the state of Tennessee’s motion to lift the injunction against the 48-hour waiting period pending a full en banc appeal. This will allow the 48-hour waiting period to go back into effect until the judges hear the case and make a ruling.
“Tennesseans support commonsense legislation such as this waiting period, which protects women from being rushed into a decision by the very industry that will profit from her abortion,” Mrs. Dunn said. “There are children alive in Tennessee today because this law allowed their mothers time to consider all their options. The court has made a wise decision to allow this law to go back into effect.”
In the same decision, the court granted the state’s request to expedite the case, which was passed overwhelmingly by the Tennessee General Assembly in 2015.
“It continues to look promising that the 6th Circuit will uphold Tennessee’s 48-hour waiting period law. This was the first law that Tennessee Right to Life supported following the passage of Amendment 1, because we knew it was both constitutional and would save lives. We are grateful the 6th Circuit is giving this law a thorough examination and feel confident that they will rule in its favor when all is said and done,” Mr. Brewer said.
Mrs. Dunn said that “pro-life Tennesseans were well represented in the en banc hearing by the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals as Attorney General [Herbert] Slatery’s office defended the 48-hour waiting period. Ms. Sarah Campbell, associate solicitor general and special assistant to the attorney general, articulated very well the state’s interest in the law.”
This was in stark contrast to the attorney for the abortion groups, whose main focus was on how the law hurt Planned Parenthood and other providers’ business models, Mrs. Dunn said.
“Life is not profitable for them, abortion is,” she said. “As usual, the abortion industry ignored the tragedy of abortion for women and their unborn children and refused to acknowledge the benefit of giving women accurate information and time to make a decision. In challenging Tennessee’s 48-hour waiting period, Planned Parenthood and the other abortion facilities in the state further exposed their real agenda—they are not ‘pro-choice’ as they claim, but truly are pro-abortion.”
Mr. Brewer said, “We expect the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn the Federal District Court in Nashville and rule that Tennessee’s 48-hour waiting period can remain in effect because it does not unduly burden a woman’s ability to get an abortion. The fact that the majority of all the court’s judges ruled to remove the injunction against the waiting period while they hear the appeal is a sign of good things to come.”
Regarding the Mississippi case, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it will hear arguments next term regarding Mississippi’s ban on abortions at 15 weeks. The court announced that the question before it will be the constitutionality of all pre-viability abortion bans. This will be the biggest abortion case before the Court since 1992.
“This will be a landmark abortion case and the Court’s greatest opportunity to overturn Roe v. Wade since the 1992 Casey decision,” Mrs. Dunn said.
“While the numbers indicate a 6-3 conservative majority in favor of overturning Roe, we must fervently pray for the courage of Chief Justice [John] Roberts and/or Justice [Brett] Kavanagh to be the deciding vote(s),” Mr. Brewer said. “If Roe is overturned, Tennessee will immediately prohibit all abortions thanks to the passage of the Human Life Protection Act in 2019.”
Mrs. Dunn continued, “If Roe is overturned and abortion regulation is returned to the states, Tennessee is prepared. Tennesseans want to protect the women and children of our state and can do so if the court will overturn the tragic decision that led to the loss of more than 60 million lives to abortion in the United States. The people of Tennessee are ready for the Court do the right thing and overturn Roe—it is long overdue.”
Pro-life people across the state are already praying and fasting each week for each Supreme Court justice by name.
“Our weekly prayer and fasting effort is already focusing on these men and women, because we know that they will come under tremendous pressure and spiritual attacks,” Mrs. Dunn said.
“If Mississippi’s law is upheld, that means that Tennessee’s abortion ban (from eight weeks to viability) that was passed in 2020 will also likely be upheld,” Mr. Brewer said. “Furthermore, if this case is used to overturn Roe, then Tennessee’s trigger bill passed in 2019 already positions in to fully ban abortion upon the reversal of Roe v. Wade.”