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Pro-life bill strengthens protections for mothers in emergencies

The House chamber last Monday passed legislation ensuring the life of a mother will be protected when a nonviable pregnancy endangers her life. House Bill 883, sponsored by State Rep. Esther Helton-Haynes, R-East Ridge, clarifies that terminating a nonviable pregnancy, such as in the case of an ectopic or molar pregnancy, is not an abortion.  The measure passed 83-11. 

Republicans in the General Assembly in 2019 laid the groundwork to ensure life is protected at conception in Tennessee should the U.S. Supreme Court ever reverse its decision on legalized abortion. The General Assembly that year passed the Human Life Protection Act, a conditional trigger law written to go into effect 30 days following the high court’s decision giving states the authority to regulate abortion.

When the U.S. Supreme Court on June 24, 2022 declared that abortion is not a constitutional right, the Human Life Protection Act became law and automatically made abortion for any reason a Class C felony crime in Tennessee. 

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House Bill 883 ensures elective abortions remain illegal in Tennessee, but removes the affirmative defense clause that could have required doctors to provide evidence defending their actions in court when saving the life of a mother. It now provides protection for physicians by decriminalizing the procedure in such emergencies. 

“This bill provides better clarity and returns to the normal judicial system practice of innocent until proven guilty,” Helton-Haynes told members on the House floor on Monday. “It protects the life of the mother and the life of the baby.” 

Approximately one in 50 ectopic pregnancies occur each year in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If left untreated, an ectopic pregnancy will likely result in a life-threatening hemorrhage. 

“During pregnancy, a woman takes on the incredible responsibility to safeguard another human life and it is important her health is protected,” Helton-Haynes said.  “I’m proud of what this pro-family, pro-life legislation accomplishes and I will continue advocating for the health of women and children in Tennessee.” 

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Tennessee Right to Life, the state’s largest pro-life advocacy organization, supported House Bill 883. The companion version of the bill is currently advancing in the Senate

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