Tennessee’s “Heartbeat Bill” Is Moving Forward & It Could Launch A Giant Legal Battle

by Caroline Burke
Spencer Platt/Getty Images News/Getty Images

On Tuesday, a committee vote ensured that Tennessee's "heartbeat bill" is moving forward to the state's House floor for a vote — and the implications could reach all the way to Roe v. Wade. According to The Associated Press, Republicans on the House Health Committee voted 15-4 to send the legislation to the House; if it passes in the House, it will then move to the Senate for another vote. And given that Tennessee Governor Bill Lee has already promised to support the bill if it reaches his desk, the bill's likelihood of success is high.

The fetal heartbeat bill aims to ban most abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, at around six weeks. Given that most women don't even know if they're pregnant until six weeks at the earliest, this bill represents one of the most extreme abortion measures in recent history. It provides no exemption for victims of rape or incest, but does include an exemption for a medical emergency, per The Tennessean.

Rep. Micah Van Huss is one of the Republicans sponsoring the bill. When he was asked if he thought it would be appropriate for a 15-year-old girl who'd been raped by a sports coach to be forced to carry her baby to term, he said, "Yes," per The Associated Press.

Although there's a decent chance this bill might be passed into law, there are likely going to be immediate challenges to it in the courts. This is because it directly contradicts Roe v. Wade's established precedent that women should be able to access abortions up to fetal viability, which is usually between 24 and 28 weeks. Per The Associated Press, this is partially the goal of the supporters of the fetal heartbeat bill: to eventually bring about a reversal of Roe v. Wade from the Supreme Court.

In other states, similar battles are brewing. The state of Iowa recently voted a heartbeat bill into legislation last spring. The bill was eventually struck down by a judge in January who ruled that the law was unconstitutional. But before that happened, State Senator Rick Bertrand, a Republican from Sioux City, explained via The New York Times, "We need to create vehicles that will allow the Supreme Court possibly to reach back and take this case, and to take up an anti-abortion case.”

On the other side of the debate, the ACLU of Tennessee has already confirmed it will file a lawsuit as soon as the bill passes, per the Associated Press.

According to The Tennessean, the bill will make it a Class C felony for any doctor who performs an abortion after six weeks, which could lead to up to 15 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

Per The New York Times, Tennessee is one of several states that have pending bills to ban abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected. These states including Iowa, Kentucky, Ohio, and Arkansas, to name a few. According to Fox 17, this is the third year in a row that Van Huss has introduced the heartbeat bill to the state legislature.