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Reproductive rights advocates have fought against abortion bans and restrictions in a number of states this year. This week legislators in Tennessee are considering a ban on all abortion care at every stage of pregnancy. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Reproductive Rights Advocates Fight Latest Extreme Abortion Ban as Tennessee GOP Attempts to Criminalize Procedure

"In case you thought we were done with abortion bans, think again."

Julia Conley

Reproductive rights advocates were in Nashville Tuesday to testify against a new anti-choice bill proposed by Republican lawmakers in Tennessee, shifting national attention back to extreme efforts by the GOP to restrict the right to abortion care.

Months after lawmakers in Georgia, Alabama, and other states passed strict abortion bans without exceptions for rape or incest in the hopes of having the laws appealed and opening up a Supreme Court battle over abortion, the Tennessee state Senate held hearings on Senate Bill 1236.

The proposal includes an amendment that would redefine the term "fetal viability," which is understood by medical professionals to mean 24 to 28 weeks of gestation. An embryo would be considered "viable" as soon as human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG), a hormone produced during pregnancy, is detected with a home pregnancy test or blood test.

"In case you thought we were done with abortion bans, think again," tweeted Lauren Rankin, a writer and reproductive health clinic escort.

If the bill passes into law, abortion care would be criminalized in the state after HCG is detected, which can happen just days after conception. Women would be barred from obtaining abortion care at any point after a pregnancy is confirmed.

"A person shall not purposely perform or induce, or attempt to perform or induce, an abortion upon a pregnant woman when a viable pregnancy is presumed to exist or has been confirmed," the amendment reads.

The bill would also give a fetus the same constitutional rights as a person and would extend the abortion ban to nearly all cases, allowing for exceptions if a pregnant patient's life is at stake.

One state legislator acknowledged his hope that the proposed law—which, the Washington Post reports—"is probably unconstitutional," would be appealed and end up before the U.S. Supreme Court. 

"We want a vehicle to lead the Supreme Court to consider, I hope, overturning or at least chipping away at Roe v. Wade," state Sen. Kerry Roberts, a Republican, told CBS News.

NARAL Pro-Choice America vowed to fight the legislation, which, the group noted, is at odds with the high level of support for abortion rights across the United States.

"Anti-choice lawmakers are determined to gut Roe v. Wade, despite Roe being more popular than ever with the American public. As out-of-touch lawmakers follow Donald Trump's lead to criminalize abortion, the vast majority of Americans believe that abortion is a matter of personal freedom that should be free from political interference," NARAL Vice President Adrienne Kimmell said in a statement.

The Tennessee Senate Judiciary Committee invited 15 anti-choice men to speak in favor of the bill on Tuesday, while only eight women were invited to testify. Heather Shumaker, senior counsel for the National Women's Law Center (NWLC), was the first woman to testify.

State Sen. Katrina Robinson, who described the legislation on Monday as "idiotic," greeted Shumaker with the remark, "I am excited to be able to talk to a woman finally," prompting applause.

"In a state which ranks in the bottom 10 states for the health of women and children," Shumaker told the committee. "Tennessee certainly should work to expand access to healthcare. There are many other actions lawmakers could take to protect and help [their] constituents, like expanding Medicaid like more than two-thirds of U.S. states have done—but banning abortion isn't one of them."

As she testified in opposition to the bill, Cherisse Scott, CEO of the Tennessee-based reproductive justice organization SisterReach, expressed anger toward the Republicans on the committee for attempting to restrict women's access to abortion while also failing to ensure that women have access to comprehensive reproductive health education.

The committee adjourned for a recess before Scott finished testifying, and later had security escort her out of the room.

After the Republicans on the committee stopped listening to Scott, she turned her attention to the anti-choice activists, many of them women, who had gathered in the hearing room.

"You are in a place that denies you access to comprehensive reproductive and sexual healthcare," Scott told the anti-choice contingent. "That is what you support. You're trying to act like abortion happens in a vacuum and it does not happen in a vacuum."

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