November 17, 2014 — Tennessee Rep. Rick Womick (R) on Thursday pre-filed the first bill aimed at increasing abortion restrictions in the state since voters approved an antiabortion-rights amendment (Amendment 1) earlier this month, the Tennessean reports.
Womick's bill would require a woman seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound between 72 hours and 24 hours before the abortion procedure. The woman would not be required to look at the ultrasound images, but a physician would have to describe them to her, give her a copy of the images and make audible any detectable fetal heartbeat.
The woman would then have to sign a statement saying the physician gave her the opportunity to view the ultrasound images and adhered to the other requirements. Physicians would be required to keep copies of the statement and ultrasound images for seven years after an abortion is performed.
The bill states that the ultrasound requirements would not be applicable in instances of "medical emergency or spontaneous miscarriage." The legislation would take effect on July 1, if approved (Boucher, Tennessean, 11/14).
Womick said the bill is intended to "fully inform the mother of what she is doing" before an abortion and would help "protect the emotional and mental health of women across the state" (AP/Chattanooga Times Free Press, 11/15). Womick acknowledged that abortion clinics in Tennessee already perform ultrasounds before the procedure. "All this bill would say is look, let the mother see the picture and hear the heartbeat," he said.
Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee's Jeff Teague said the bill has nothing to do with increasing women's safety. "Women are given that opportunity (to view ultrasound images) now; the only difference is this is forcing women to either view the ultrasound or to have something described to them that they may not want," he said, adding, "This is about shaming women and demeaning them."
Teague said abortion-rights advocates would fight the proposed legislation, as well as any other abortion restrictions that are introduced. However, he noted that keeping such measures from passing would be difficult in the Republican-controlled state Legislature.
First Abortion Bill Filed Since Passage of Amendment 1
Conservative lawmakers in the state have said they plan to introduce more abortion restrictions following the approval of Amendment 1 (Tennessean, 11/14). The amendment passed with roughly 54% of the vote and amended the Tennessee constitution to include the statement, "Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion. The people retain the right through their elected state representatives and state senators to enact, amend, or repeal statutes regarding abortion, including, but not limited to, circumstances of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest or when necessary to save the life of the mother" (Women's Health Policy Report, 11/13).
After the measure's passage, state House Speaker Beth Harwell (R) announced that she would be supporting at least three antiabortion-rights measures, which differ from Womick's. Womick is challenging Harwell for the speakership (Tennessean, 11/14).
Specifically, Harwell will push for bills that would establish a mandatory delay before a woman can obtain an abortion, require medical professionals to provide state-mandated information to women seeking abortion care and require inspections of abortion facilities (Women's Health Policy Report, 11/13).