After a 2020 in which Tennessee lawmakers passed one of the strictest anti-abortion laws in the country (which was promptly struck down by a federal judge), abortion policy has not been front-and-center at the Tennessee General Assembly in 2021. But lawmakers couldn’t leave town without pushing additional abortion restrictions.
On Monday, the state House voted 69-22 to approve new regulations requiring the burial or cremation of fetal remains resulting from procedures performed at abortion clinics.
The legislation includes several carve-outs, including for emergency abortions occurring at hospitals and when law enforcement officers are seeking evidence in rape investigations. The goal, House sponsor Tim Rudd (R-Murfreesboro) said, was to “restore the dignity of this unborn child.”
But opponents argue that the result — intentional or not — will be to shame and burden women seeking legal abortions.
“Their dignity, their choice, all of that is being taken away as folks try and chip away and control their bodies,” Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville) said.
The Senate was scheduled to consider the legislation Monday night as well but delayed a vote until Wednesday. Republican Gov. Bill Lee has not weighed in on the bill but was a driving force behind the enjoined 2020 law.
One of the members supporting the legislation, Rep. Robin Smith (R-Hixson), responded to opponents’ criticisms, saying, “It’s not fetal tissue — it’s dismembered children.”
Though Rudd took pains to argue that the bill had nothing to do with the abortions themselves but rather what takes place after a procedure, Anna Flores — an organizer with Tennessee Advocates for Planned Parenthood who joined other protestors at the Capitol on Monday — said the bill was “an attack on abortion, nothing else.”
“They want to chip away at our rights little by little, hoping we don’t notice, until suddenly our bodily autonomy is banned completely,” Flores said.