NASHVILLE, Tennessee – In front of a standing room only committee room, the House Health Committee passed the Heartbeat Bill by an overwhelming majority of 15 for and 4 against, straight along party lines.
The bill, sponsored in the Tennessee House by Representative Micah Van Huss (R-Van Huss) as HB 0077, establishes the viability of a pregnancy when a fetal heartbeat is detected and bans an abortion once the fetal heartbeat is detected.
The bill passed through the House Health Subcommittee last week, moving on to the full House Health Committee Tuesday.
The hearing of Van Huss’s HB 0077 in the House Health Committee coincided with a previously scheduled Planned Parenthood Day on the Hill, complete with a bus from Knoxville.
Pro-life grassroots advocates showed up as well, so that the room appeared to be about equally split, based on outward displays, between those representing two sides of the issue.
Despite 14 of the 19 House Health Committee members having signed on to the bill as co-sponsors prior to the meeting, making it fairly obvious the bill would pass, discussion on the bill lasted nearly three-quarters of an hour before a roll call vote was eventually taken.
Discussions went back and forth between the committee members and the bill sponsor, with most of the dialogue coming from the committee members, and abbreviated, direct responses coming from Representative Van Huss mainly focused on saving the lives of babies.
Stark contrasts could be observed in the dialogue of the committee members as well as the audible and visual responses of the audience, based on support for or opposition to the Heartbeat bill.
The debate initiated with an amendment offered by Representative Larry Miller (D-Memphis), who asked to be recorded as present and not voting during the previous week’s subcommittee meeting. Miller said his amendment states that state funds shall not be utilized to defend this act in judicial proceedings unless the funds are specifically appropriated for such purpose in a general appropriation act.
Bill sponsor Van Huss responded by saying, “I think that we owe it to our taxpayers to use every available resource to save babies’ lives.” Van Huss then respectfully made a motion to table the amendment.
When a motion to table has been made, it cuts off all debate allowing only the sponsor of the amendment to speak to it.
Representative Miller argued the point that taxpayer dollars are being already being used and in lawsuits in three states that were struck down, $1 million had been spent. Miller went on to say he had received hundreds of emails from across the state, including Knoxville, middle Tennessee and west Tennessee.
Miller then read from a constituent’s email, “I urge you to oppose the unconstitutional, unsafe legislation that would ban abortions in Tennessee. House Bill 77 and House Bill 1029 are extreme measures that would make almost all abortions illegal in Tennessee. These bills simply go too far in inserting government into our personal and private lives. House Bill 77 will prevent most women from getting abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy before many women even know they are pregnant.”
House Health Committee Chairman Bryan Terry (R-Murfreesboro), as he had a couple times prior, reminded Representative Miller to stay on the amendment.
Miller went on reading, “These bills are so clearly unconstitutional that it would open the door to litigation, legal wrangling, costing taxpayers more of their hard-earned money. Passing this bill would be a waste of taxpayers’ resources on divisive unconstitutional bill.”
Miller then requested the Chairman and members of the committee support the amendment.
The voice vote to table the amendment was deemed that “the ayes have it,” by Chairman Terry.
Representative Barbara Cooper (D-Memphis) started with a seemingly innocuous question, asking the bill sponsor to give a brief explanation as to what the bill does.