In one of the most bizarre legislative meetings in memory, women described how they pieced together the arms, legs and heads of aborted babies (fetuses) as they spoke this week in favor of the Unborn Child Dignity Act. 

One of the women, who said she was the former healthcare manager of the largest Planned Parenthood in North Carolina, told the Health Subcommittee the question is no longer about abortion. Instead, she said, “This is about whether we respect human life.”

The women said they would see up to 40 abortions a day in the North Carolina facility.

Rep. Tim Rudd, a Murfreesboro Republican whose bill would force women to choose between burial and cremation for their aborted fetal remains, told lawmakers the remains are often ground up and thrown in the garbage. He wants to bring dignity to aborted babies or tissue, whichever side you’re on.

Rep. Tim Rudd, R-Murfreesboro (Photo: Tennessee General Assembly)
Rep. Tim Rudd, R-Murfreesboro (Photo: Tennessee General Assembly)

The comments led Rep. Paul Sherrell, R-Sparta, to remark that, “no wonder our landfills are full with all these lives we’re throwing away in our landfills.” He wished the rest of America could hear what is being done.

Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi was not allowed to speak in the hearing where Rudd’s bill garnered enough votes to move on to the full Health Committee.

But Francie Hunt, executive director of the Tennessee organization, later said the women lied about how fetal tissue is handled and called the bill “disrespectful.” 

“The intent behind the bill is clear. It’s to shame and humiliate and punish women for the decision to obtain an abortion,” she said.

The women who testified tried to paint an emotional picture of a “gruesome” process, without explaining that any medical procedure can be “pretty brutal.” Hunt said. She noted if legislators saw what happens in a miscarriage, they would try to outlaw them too.

“It’s not a pretty situation,” she said.

Fetal tissue is handled and disposed of at abortion clinics the same as at any other medical facility, usually by a medical tissue disposal company that typically incinerates the material, Hunt said.

Hunt contends the legislation is designed to shut down Planned Parenthood and limit access to “vital reproductive healthcare.” The bill removes hospitals from the equation and does not mention miscarriages or any other pregnancy that doesn’t reach full term, only surgical abortions, Hunt pointed out.

It’s unclear whether this measure and another bill banning abortion will make their way through the Legislation this session. Senate leaders said Thursday their focus is on the “fetal heartbeat” bill that passed in 2020, though it has been held unconstitutional by a federal judge.

Still, calling it a “reasonable approach,” Lt. Gov. Randy McNally predicted the state law would be upheld by the Supreme Court. He said other abortion bills in the Legislature could “confuse the issue” and damage the state’s efforts with the “heartbeat” bill.

Whether McNally’s prediction comes true is up for debate. But one thing that probably can’t be argued is whether fetal tissue is causing the nation’s garbage dumps to fill up. More than likely, those are brimming with plastic bottles, paper, tin cans, beer bottles and household trash that people are too lazy to recycle. And don’t forget sewer sludge. There’s plenty of bull malarkey going around these days too.

Go on take the money and run

Tennessee still hasn’t figured out how it’s going to spend $220 million left over from the 2020 federal CARES Act and state leaders are whining about not getting their fair share of the American Recovery Act.

Gov. Bill Lee and his federal stimulus accountability team are trying to decide whether to put the last morsel toward payroll, public health expenses, unemployment, local government, one-state expenses, emergency broadband or K-12 education support.

With those tough decisions looming, all of a sudden they’ve got to figure out how to spend $8.56 billion from the federal $1.9 trillion package, including $4 billion for the state, $2.26 billion for local governments and $2.3 billion for school districts.

It’s a tough decision. But Gov. Lee says even that amount isn’t enough. Considering Tennessee has more than $4 billion in reserves, the question could be: How much do we really need?

Before Congress approved the plan, the governor and legislative leaders bad-mouthed the plan, saying it was loaded with misspent money. Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson said only 9% of the money would be COVID-related.

Furthermore, they said Tennessee got shorted because the funding is based on unemployment, not population. 

They argued that Tennessee’s strong strategy during the COVID-19 pandemic enabled people to get back to work and off the public dime. Other states, meanwhile, are being rewarded for their “mismanagement,” Johnson said.

Gov. Lee reiterated those statements this week after the state’s share became clear but said he has no intention of sending the money back to the feds. The governor said the financial stimulus accountability group will continue to “steward” the funds.

“I never expected that we wouldn’t accept the funds. If you don’t accept the funds, they go to other states,” Lee said. “What I’ve said was nationally I don’t think the country will benefit from the way those funds have been distributed.”

Stay tuned to find out how the state doles out that cash. But don’t expect it to stem from debate in the accountability group meetings. Members might make suggestions, but the final decisions come from the top.

Moses and the rock

“Moses was leading the children of Israel in the wilderness, and they needed water, and God said to Moses, ‘Go speak to the rock and water will come out.’ Moses got hard headed and rather than speaking to the rock, he tapped the rock. Twice. God let the water come out, but Moses didn’t make it to the Promised Land.” Rep. Johnny Shaw, Bolivar Democrat and minister, explaining that people need to listen to God instead of doing things on their own volition as he debated Rep. Jerry Sexton on the merits of the Sexton’s resolution to make the Bible the official state book of Tennessee.

Rep. Johnny Shaw, D-Bolivar (Tennessee General Assembly)
Rep. Johnny Shaw, D-Bolivar (Tennessee General Assembly)

Earlier, Sexton told Shaw he wasn’t trying to “shove” the Bible down people’s throats.

The resolution passed 55-28 with seven present not voting. Those were Republicans Rush Bricken, Johnny Garrett, Pat Marsh, Bob Ramsey, Ron Travis and Kevin Vaughan and Democratic Rep. Barbara Cooper. Republicans voting against the resolution were Dale Carr, Michael Curcio, Curtis Halford, Eddie Mannis, Iris Rudder and Sam Whitson. Rep. John Mark Windle was the lone Democrat voting for the resolution. 

Lt. Gov. McNally is listed as the co-prime sponsor of a Senate version of the resolution, even though he has said he opposed making the Bible the state book and putting it on the same level as the salamander and mockingbird, the state amphibian and bird.

“The first senator to sign on to a House Joint Resolution received by the Senate becomes the prime sponsor. Lt. Gov. McNally was the first senator to sign on. The resolution has been referred to the State and Local Committee. Lt. Gov. McNally has not yet requested it be placed on a calendar,” spokesman Adam Kleinheider said.

No racism here

Despite backing by the American Medical Association, Rep. Antonio Parkinson couldn’t push his bill recognizing racism as a public health threat through the House Health Committee.

The primary opponent was a physician, Rep. Sabi Kumar of Springfield, who took exception to the notion that doctors could be considered racists. 

Republican House Caucus Chair Jeremy Faison, at right, talks with Memphis Democrat Antonio Parkinson recently in House chambers. (Photo: John Partipilo)
Republican House Caucus Chair Jeremy Faison, at right, talks with Memphis Democrat Antonio Parkinson recently in House chambers. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Parkinson, a Memphis Democrat, tried to explain that he wasn’t disrespecting doctors but simply wanted to point out that racism has had a negative effect on Black people through the decades and centuries.

The resolution says the state would “recognize racism as a public health threat and commit ourselves to opening and honestly addressing racism to end areas of disparity and inequity.” 

The committee sent Parkinson’s resolution to summer study, meaning it is dead for this session. So much for discussing race and health.

Turning the tide

“I think it was when Rep. Mitchell stood up and said he was for it.” House Speaker Cameron Sexton, a Crossville Republican, joked Thursday that support for his bill to limit legislators’ state contracts nearly died when Davidson County Democratic Rep. Bo Mitchell gave it his wholehearted support.