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VOL. 132 | NO. 23 | Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Lobbying Against ‘Extreme’ Abortion Bill

By Sam Stockard

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NASHVILLE – Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis is calling The Heartbeat Bill an “extreme” piece of legislation designed to outlaw abortion and potentially distract state lawmakers from other attempts to restrict the procedure.

Sarah Wallett

A bill announced last week by Rep. Micah Van Huss would prohibit an abortion once a heartbeat is detected and yet another one would stop abortions after 20 weeks.

Sarah Wallett, medical director of Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis, says both measures would hurt the ability of women to have abortions. But she points out Van Huss’s bill would be the worst because a heartbeat typically can be found about five to six weeks after a woman’s last menstrual cycle.

“So extreme legislation like this would make almost all safe, legal abortions illegal,” Wallett says.

Wallett contends the legislation is unconstitutional because the standard set by Roe v. Wade does not allow a state to ban abortion prior to the viability of a fetus, which is “long after” six weeks or the detection of a heartbeat.

U.S. abortion rates reached a historic low in 2014 when 14.6 abortions per 1,000 women between ages 15 and 44 were reported, down from a high of 29.3 in 1982 and 16.3 in 1973 when Roe v. Wade took effect. All told, about 926,200 abortions were performed in 2014 nationwide, down 12 percent from 1.06 million in 2011, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

Still, Van Huss, a Johnson City Republican, says it is “imperative that we protect life. I wasn’t around for Roe v. Wade. I am now and I aim to make this right.”

Van Huss points out that he and his wife “welcomed” their baby girl six months ago. “Do I think that a woman has a right to choose? I think that a woman has a right to live.”

Rep. Courtney Rogers, a Republican from Goodlettsville and co-prime sponsor, backs Van Huss, saying, “Life is precious.”

“The regard we give life affects us all. We cannot teach our following generations that the youngest among us can be terminated for being inconvenient,” Rogers says.

Van Huss’ legislation would be much more restrictive than legislation introduced by Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, a Lancaster Republican. It would prohibit abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy except to preserve the life and health of the mother. 

Though only 1.3 percent of abortions take place after the 20th week of pregnancy, Wallett says she is concerned Van Huss’s legislation will make other bills such as the one introduced by Weaver seem “moderate in comparison.”

“We will spend our time talking about a heartbeat ban when there is also a 20-week abortion ban that was introduced in the Tennessee Legislature, which has a more likely chance to pass and go into effect,” she points out.

Wallett calls this “a tool politicians can use” as a means to an end. But she still says even a 20-week ban is not “moderate.”

“Anything that puts a woman’s health secondary and gets in between a woman and her physician and her ability to take whatever medical steps she needs for herself is a bad piece of legislation,” Wallett says. “It interferes with a woman’s health decision-making.” 

Several factors can cause a woman to have an abortion later in a pregnancy, including delays in finding out she’s pregnant, inability to afford the procedure, a lack of doctors who provide abortions in Tennessee and events occurring late in a pregnancy such as a problem with the fetus or the pregnancy, according to Wallett. 

Sam Stockard is a Nashville-based reporter covering the Legislature for The Memphis Daily News. He can be reached at sstockard44@gmail.com.

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