NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — When a Tennessee Right to Life lobbyist and legal adviser told legislators the organization would poorly score a bill to potentially add some leeway in the current abortion ban, Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) took exception.

“To do it in a committee, to try to intimidate this committee to go a certain direction is uncalled for,” Sexton said in a House Population Health Subcommittee this week.

Sexton, who isn’t a member of the committee, came down during the meeting and condemned the move from the anti-abortion group. 

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“To say that in committee, I’ve never experienced before,” Sexton told reporters Thursday. “I thought it was over the top, it was more to, in my opinion, as I said in committee, to intimidate members.”

The Speaker said private conversations about such things were acceptable but doing so publicly crosses a line.

“We all know that we get graded. We get graded by groups and they don’t tell us what bills they’re grading us,” he said. “We know the Tennessee Right to Life is going to grade us, we know the NFIB is going to grade us, we know the chamber is going to grade us.”

The move is an unusual one for the House’s top Republican and marked common ground between the two parties.

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“Making political campaign threats during testimony on a healthcare bill or any bill in this body is really disrespectful and beyond the pale and inappropriate,” Rep. John Ray Clemmons (D-Nashville) said.

Of course, Democrats want to pull the whole law back. But as a superminority, their hands are fairly tied.

“Compromise is necessary to achieve any level of progress and so, in the spirit of bipartisanship and really trying to find common ground, we supported that legislation,” Clemmons said. “I hope it does pass.”

Still Sexton’s public rebuke did mark one important note. It makes the possibility of exceptions for the current law much higher than previously thought.

“I’m acceptable with rape and incest,” Sexton said. “It doesn’t mean it’s what we’re going to pass.”

But with the Speaker’s support, it seems much more likely.