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Tennessee Republicans Advance Abortion Bill That’s More Extreme Than Texas Law

The bill would let residents sue providers for $10,000 if they provided an abortion at any stage of pregnancy.

Reproductive rights activists hold abortion rights cut out letters outside the Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C., on December 1, 2021.

Republicans in the Tennessee House of Representatives have advanced an anti-abortion bill that would be stricter than a controversial law enacted in Texas last fall.

The mechanics of the recent anti-abortion law in Texas have so far allowed it to avoid serious judicial scrutiny by the conservative-leaning Supreme Court — instead of the state of Texas enforcing a six-week ban on abortion, the legislation placed the onus of enforcement on residents themselves, who can sue abortion providers (and anyone else) who help individuals access abortion services.

The Tennessee bill, which advanced through the House Health Subcommittee this week, goes beyond the Texas law, however, as it allows a resident of the state to sue providers if an abortion occurs at any stage of pregnancy — which essentially outlaws the procedure, except in limited circumstances concerning the health of the pregnant person.

State Rep. Rebecca Alexander (R), the sponsor of the bill, said it was “modeled directly” after the Texas law. Alexander also celebrated the fact that abortion rates dropped by 60 percent in Texas after the law was enacted, and was hopeful that the same precipitous outcome would happen in Tennessee.

Besides allowing for some health exceptions, the bill also disallows rapists from being able to sue if their victims seek an abortion. However, Democrats noted — and Alexander conceded — that a loophole in that provision would allow a rapist’s family members or friends to sue a hypothetical rape victim on their behalf.

Gov. Bill Lee (R-Tennessee) was noncommittal toward supporting the bill, noting that an abortion law last year that banned the procedure at the first sign of “fetal heartbeat” – a term that health experts say is unscientific and misleading – was still being litigated.

“We’re currently in a situation with the existing legislation in place that is being reviewed by the courts, a very important process. My sense is that we need to let that play out,” Lee said in a statement last week.

Critics lashed out at the bill for denying the right to access abortion services, at any stage of gestation, in the state.

“If this bill is allowed to go into effect, people who need abortions will be forced to either travel out of state, not receive the health care that they need, or seek abortions in unsafe situations,” CHOICES Memphis Center for Reproduction Health said in a statement. “This is a heartbreaking decision and one that sets Tennesseans back decades.”

Katrina Green, an emergency physician from Nashville, noted that the bill would harm marginalized communities who already lack adequate access to abortion services.

“Please consider that outlawing abortion in Tennessee will not stop women from getting abortions,” Green wrote on Twitter. “Women have been ending pregnancies for hundreds of years. Rich women will always have the means to obtain an abortion. Only since Roe v Wade have all women been able to obtain abortions in a safe manner.”

“Going back to pre-Roe” — as this bill seeks to do — “would likely result in the unnecessary harm and deaths of countless women,” Green tweeted.

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