State House committee advances bill criminalizing abortion after heartbeat detected

    (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
    (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

    A bill criminalizing abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected was approved by members of a House health committee on Tuesday, even as some lawmakers voting in favor of it said they had not read it in its final form, including one of the bill’s sponsors. 

    The bill was amended by Rep. Bryan Terry, R-Murfreesboro, to mirror the language in the Gov. Bill Lee-backed heartbeat bill and strip the original measure of references to foreign law and unsourced medical findings. It also removed a requirement women undergo ultrasounds.

    But the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Old Hickory, appeared caught off guard when she stood to argue in favor of a measure she has championed, saying she was “not familiar” with the amendment offered by Terry. The amendment replaces the language of Lynn’s original bill entirely.

    State Rep. Susan Lynn (R-Mt. Juliet) (Official photo, Tennessee General Assembly)
    State Rep. Susan Lynn (R-Mt. Juliet) (Official photo, Tennessee General Assembly)

    And neither she nor Terry could answer a question from lawmakers about whether there were exceptions for rape or incest contained in the abortion bill.

    Matthew King, a legislative attorney, was tapped to read through the bill language. There is an exception for medical emergencies, but not for rape or incest he said. 

    “I find the situation to be sincerely bemusing that the sponsor of the bill has not read the amendment,” said Rep. Sabi Kumar, R-Springfield.

    Kumar said he had not read the amendment either. 

    “I feel uncomfortable,” he said. “It would be good if you want to give the committee time to review the amendment. I think it would create a better understanding of the bill.”

    Still, the committee voted in favor of the bill. 

    Terry told lawmakers she would back the version submitted Tuesday because it reflected the language preferred by the governor. 

    “I do know the administration has fully read this amendment, and so I’m fine with proceeding from here,” she said.

    The future of the bill remains unclear. 

    A spokesman for Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, said Tuesday the bill was unlikely to be taken up by the Senate. 

    “Lt. Governor McNally worked with the governor to craft a bill that had a good chance of withstanding court scrutiny,” Adam Kleinheider, his spokesman, said. “He supported the governor’s bill and advocated for its passage prior to the rise of COVID-19. During the pandemic, the Senate has made its focus items which are time-sensitive, budget related or deal with the ongoing coronavirus. The bill is not likely to be taken up in the Senate under those criteria.”