Anti-abortion ‘heartbeat’ bill now focuses on ultrasound

Friday, January 26, 2018, Vol. 42, No. 4
By Sam Stockard

By necessity, Rep. Micah Van Huss turned his “heartbeat bill” into an ultrasound reporting bill after failing to find the support to pass his proposal in a subcommittee.

Van Huss (R-Jonesborough) amended his legislation prohibiting abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected and instead will give pregnant women the opportunity to have an ultrasound before undergoing an abortion.

If the ultrasound is given, the bill would require a post-abortion report indicating the presence or absence of a fetal heartbeat be sent to the Department of Health for an annual report.

“Eighty percent of mothers who see an ultrasound before an abortion do no follow through with an abortion,” Van Huss told the House Health Subcommittee.

The Republican-controlled committee approved the measure on a voice vote, with opposition coming only from Democratic Reps. John Ray Clemmons of Nashville and Joanne Graves of Chattanooga.

“I do have some concerns with the legislation and what your intended effects are and the emotional harm that comes with a decision such as this,” Clemmons said.

Clemmons complained that when three major bills dealing with abortion restrictions passed in the Legislature three years ago, sponsors said those would be the end of abortion-related bills.

Van Huss pointed out he never made any promises.

“But for myself, as long as the citizens of District 6 continue to send me to Nashville I will not stop fighting for the lives of babies until abortion is abolished in this state,” Van Huss said.

Van Huss ran into opposition on his initial “heartbeat bill” from pro-life groups, including Tennessee Right to Life, which raised concerns that passing such a measure could hurt its legal efforts in the courts on other pro-life laws.

Rep. Bryan Terry, a Murfreesboro Republican who chairs the House Health Subcommittee, said Tennessee Right to Life supports Van Huss’ amended bill.

ACLU-Tennessee Executive Director Hedy Weinberg said afterward gathering information is OK as long as it’s done anonymously.

“I think he obviously has a long-term commitment to ban abortion, which … is the right of every woman to make a decision, a very difficult decision, as to what’s best for her, given her life’s circumstances,” Weinberg said.

She pointed out Van Huss didn’t have enough votes to pass the “heartbeat bill,” which she said was “clearly unconstitutional.” The ACLU successfully sued two other states that passed similar legislation, Weinberg said.

Tennessee legislators continue to lead a movement to put up barriers to women who want access to abortion services, but Tennesseans statewide believe abortion is a “very intimate, difficult decision,” she said.

“Government, politicians should not be involved in that decision,” Weinberg said.

Sam Stockard is a Nashville-based reporter covering the Legislature for the Nashville Ledger, Memphis Daily News, Knoxville Ledger and Hamilton County Herald. He can be reached at