The Look in Brief

Memphis City Council approves reproductive autonomy bill

By: - July 12, 2022 7:22 pm
Memphis Councilmember JB Smiley, Jr. sponsored a resolution labeling reproductive autonomy a necessity. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Memphis Councilmember JB Smiley, Jr. sponsored a resolution labeling reproductive autonomy a necessity. (Photo: John Partipilo)

(This story has been updated.)

The Memphis City Council passed a resolution Tuesday labeling reproductive autonomy a necessity as part of a larger effort by local elected officials to combat strict state laws on abortion. 

Last week, Memphis City Council member JB Smiley announced he would introduce a resolution aiming to discourage local law enforcement from prosecuting women or doctors making reproductive-health decisions. 

Although the Memphis City Council does not have authority over the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office or the district attorney from prosecuting abortion cases, Smiley aims at to control budget items for abortion-related cases. 

Local leaders are the last line of defense. If we don't stand up for the people, who will?

– JB Smiley, Jr., Memphis City Councilmember

“If and when the time comes, if we see a budget that shows resources being allocated for the prosecution of medical professionals attempting to help women navigate that difficult time of their lives, and we see resources being allocated to seek out and arrest women for making reproductive-health care decisions, we zero it out,” said Smiley.

However, there is no budget that provides resources for such arrests, as the city budget passed before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Dobbs v. Jackson on June 24, sending abortions decisions to individual states.

Smiley, who is running for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, also said that if he is elected governor, he will seek to decriminalize abortion in Tennessee. 

“The (Gov. Bill Lee) needs to mind his own business,” he added. 

This is not the first time council members voted against state-mandated legislation. In 2021, Gov. Bill Lee signed into law legislation banning mask mandates across the state, forbidding county mayors, school boards and other government officials from requiring masks unless COVID-19 infections increased exponentially.  

In response, the Shelby County Health Board mandated masks in public and private schools and were criticized by the governor.  

“Local leaders are the last line of defense,” said Smiley. “If we don’t stand up for the people, who will?”

The Memphis City Council attorney, Allan Wade, agreed with Smiley’s interpretation of the council’s authority.  

Smiley also touched upon the state’s high rates of gun violence with Memphis having one of the highest homicide rates in the country. 

“We have other priorities,” he said.

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Dulce Torres Guzman
Dulce Torres Guzman

Dulce has written for the Nashville Scene and Crucero News. A graduate of Middle Tennessee State University, she received the John Seigenthaler Award for Outstanding Graduate in Print Journalism in 2016. Torres Guzman is a member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. She enjoys the outdoors and is passionate about preserving the environment and environmental issues.