NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — The Sexual Assault Center says they fear their effort to add exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest to Tennessee’s strict ban on abortions will fail.
Tennessee’s abortion trigger law, which was passed in 2019 and went into effect after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade, has no exceptions for abortions in the case of rape, incest or pregnancy that threatens the life of the mother. The law does offer an “affirmative defense” for doctors who perform abortions to save the life of a mother.
Lorraine McGuire with the Sexual Assault Center says since the law went into effect, her team has been meeting with lawmakers to change the bill.
However, the day before their legislation adding exceptions for rape and incest was set to be heard in a key Senate committee, it became clear to them it will not likely make it to the Senate floor.
At a rally on Monday where the Sexual Assault Center had said bill-sponsor Sen. Ferrell Haile (R-Gallatin) would attend but did not show up, they called for their supporters to reach out to their lawmakers to express support for the legislation.
“We hoped they would be here today, as well,” McGuire said in front of the Tennessee State House. “But, we are here because we fear tomorrow this advocacy we’ve worked on will fail.”
In a statement, Sen. Haile said he got caught up with meetings and other issues so he wasn’t able to attend the rally. He also said he is hoping the bill will be considered at a later date.
“I have surveyed the committee and do not [have] enough support to pass the bill,” Haile wrote. “This is a subject that will require continued discussion. In particular, I want the discussion to continue around children that are raped. I am anti-abortion and was a co-sponsor of the trigger bill. Being pro-life is more than being anti-abortion! I believe this is a pro-life bill.”
According to a Vanderbilt University Poll from December 2022, 75% of Tennessee voters think it should be legal to terminate a pregnancy that is a result of rape or incest.
The Governor and Lt. Governor have continuously said they support the law as it is currently written.
But last week, Republican House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) said he would support adding rape and incest exceptions to the law, but his support doesn’t mean that is the bill that will pass.
Sexton also said the Attorney General told him another bill that would change the “affirmative defense” portion of the current bill could be legally stronger than current law.
“The AG has signed off on the language as well, and they believe this is a stronger bill to defend in court than the trigger law,” Sexton said.
The anti-abortion group Tennessee Right to Life has been lobbying for lawmakers to not change the current abortion law. At one point, the group threatened to give lawmakers lower scores if they supported changes.