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Tennessee senate leader won’t support Texas-style abortion bill

Tenn. Senate Speaker and Lt. Gov. Randy McNally
Tenn. Senate Speaker and Lt. Gov. Randy McNally

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP/KIMBERLEE KRUESI) — Tennessee’s Senate Speaker Randy McNally on Thursday said he does not support legislation that would ban abortions and allow almost anyone to file civil lawsuits against violators and collect damages.

Earlier in the week, Tennessee became the latest GOP-led state to introduce legislation mimicking a law currently enacted in Texas law and its novel citizen-enforcement provision.

The Tennessee version does not have an exception for rape or incest, but those who impregnated a patient “through an act of rape, sexual assault, or incest” would not be allowed to sue an abortion provider. However, a rapist’s relatives could each bring a civil action and could collect at least $10,000 in damages.

“I don’t support it and the reason is because it’ll complicate the case we already have that’s moving up to the Supreme Court,” McNally told reporters.

In 2020, Republican Gov. Bill Lee signed off on a sweeping anti-abortion ban limiting the procedure at around the six-week mark. The law has never been been enacted after several abortion providers quickly filed lawsuits against the state and federal courts agreed to block the law’s implementation as the challenge makes it way through court.

The legal battle comes as the U.S. Supreme Court is weighing whether to uphold Mississippi’s ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, as well as allow states to ban abortion much earlier in pregnancy. The court may even overturn the nationwide right that has existed for nearly 50 years.

To date, only Idaho’s GOP-controlled Statehouse has sent a copy-cat version of the Texas law to the state’s governor for approval. Efforts to pass similar bills in Florida, South Dakota and Arkansas have so far stalled while other anti-abortion restrictions have advanced.

In Tennessee, the measure is scheduled for a legislative hearing in the Senate on March 29. While Mcnally said he has not personally asked the bill’s sponsor to spike the hearing, the Republican leader’s support can be an influential factor in the Republican-controlled Statehouse to advancing legislation.

A House committee is scheduled to take up the bill next week. House Majority Leader William Lamberth said he does not think the Texas-style ban would conflict with the abortion bans Tennessee has already passed, but said it’s unknown whether the Statehouse will attempt to enact them before adjourning.

“I think it’s a good conversation and we’ll see what the next few weeks bring.” he said. “The Supreme Court has a case before them that will drastically change the conversation on this one way or the other...but I certainly support the concept of the bill.”

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