Life Line - Legislative Success in Dixie

Tennessee shows its true colors, Mississippi stays true, and Roberts steps into the spotlight.


Thursday, June 25th, 2020


Volunteer State Protects the Heartbeat

Not much seems to be going well in America, considering our current state of affairs. Riots flood the nation, racial division perpetuates, questionable Supreme Court decisions roll in, and a global pandemic continues to rear its ugly head, refusing to lay down despite the wielding of masks and social distancing. However, the pro-life movement has been one of our few bright spots in recent years. It continues to be a source of optimism heading into this summer, as yet another state has increased protections for unborn children. Last week, Tennessee’s governor announced that they would become the nineteenth state in the nation to enact what is commonly known as the “heartbeat bill.” This legislation has been shot down and vetoed in numerous states, but the fact that it is continually introduced is an incredibly encouraging sign and an important indicator of the trajectory of our nation. 

This bill has seen a wide variety of results across the United States. The bill has died in committee, failed in Congress, succumbed to gubernatorial vetoes, and has been struck down by multiple courts. In some states, however, we have seen the heartbeat bill implemented as law, which is always a terrific win for the sanctity of life and a wonderful cause for hope and perseverance. 

In Tennessee specifically, the legislation entitled House Bill 77 bans abortion after a heartbeat is detected, which is usually around six weeks gestation. It requires an ultrasound to be performed prior to any attempted abortion. The legislation also contains crucial language that attacks eugenics, prohibiting abortions based on race, sex, or medical diagnoses such as Down syndrome. HB 77 provides exceptions for medical emergencies, but none for cases of rape or incest. Moreover, it institutes a requirement for all abortion clinics to notify women that chemical abortions can be reversed, leveling fines for any practices that fail to do so. Perhaps most notably, House Bill 77 imposes punishments on abortionists, not women. Violators of the law would face up to 15 years in prison and $10,000 in fines.

This legislation faced expected opposition from the Democratic party, but the Tennessean Congress has a vast Republican majority. Thus, the bill passed with relative ease. The House approved the measure first by a vote of 68-17, and the Senate followed suit last Friday at 12:30 am with a 23-5 vote. Last weekend, Republican Governor Bill Lee unsurprisingly announced on Twitter that he will sign HB 77 into law. “One of the most important things we can do to be pro-family is to protect the rights of the most vulnerable in our state,” he stated. “There is none more vulnerable than the unborn. We have passed the strongest pro-life law in our state’s history and I am grateful to [conservative legislators] and members of our General Assembly for making the heartbeat bill law.”

Despite the facts that HB 77 already passed the state’s House and Senate with flying colors and the Governor is in full support, the bill has a slightly uphill battle to complete before it becomes law. The legislation will likely go to court, where critics claim that it will undoubtedly fail. Planned Parenthood argues that the measure is anti-science and anti-woman, and other opposers claim that it directly violates Roe v. Wade. The ACLU has already threatened to challenge HB 77 in court. “The Tennessee General Assembly’s passage of this dangerous, flatly unconstitutional bill is unacceptable," said Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the ACLU in Tennessee. "Lawmakers used this measure in a game of political maneuvering to pass the state budget — pushing it through without regard for the actual Tennesseans who will be denied access to the care they need, including abortion." Weinberg wasn’t the only one to decry the bill’s passage. "In the dead of night, Tenessee politicians hellbent on chipping away at abortion access blocked citizens from entering the state Capitol while they used this draconian abortion ban to pass the state budget," claimed Ashley Coffield, president & CEO of Planned Parenthood in Tennessee and Mississippi. "While Tennesseans are concerned about their health and safety during a pandemic, politicians used women’s lives as a bargaining chip to push their political agenda." 

Wow. This is extreme rhetoric, chock-full of significant accusations and unbridled disgust. Language such as this is certainly eye-catching, but we know better than to fall for it. The Bible calls us to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” This is clearly a statement that requires careful discernment.

Do not be fooled - House Bill 77 is a piece of common sense, logical, and moral legislation. It reflects the belief of Tennesseans and of Americans across the nation; people believe some abortion restrictions are necessary. It implements science and logic too, because after all, the stoppage of a heartbeat indicates death - why shouldn’t the beginning of a heartbeat (at the very least) indicate life? It is entirely constitutional since all people are endowed with the rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” three things which unborn children are not afforded in abortion. Furthermore, contrary to Planned Parenthood’s opinion, House Bill 77 is incredibly effective in protecting the health and safety of people - specifically, unborn people.

The true draconian measure in play here is Roe v. Wade and the significant lack of abortion restrictions both in Tennessee and across the nation. As heartbeat bills and Down syndrome protection acts continue to gain traction across the country, we are finally witnessing a slow, yet deliberate push for increased moral standards and protection for the innocent. The future for House Bill 77 is promising, given the massive support from the Tennessean government. If it does travel all the way to the Supreme Court, we pray that the justices will do the right thing. If this legislation is upheld by the highest court in the land, it would set an astounding precedent for the future of the pro-life movement and signify a massive domino falling on the road to overturning Roe v. Wade. 


Mississippi Fights Eugenics

Further south, another state is making a concerted effort to protect unborn children and eliminate discriminatory practices in abortion. The Mississippi legislative body has successfully passed the Life Equality Act, a measure that would prohibit abortions based on a child’s race, sex, disability, or genetic makeup. Sponsored by Senator Jennifer Branning and endorsed by the state’s Lieutenant Governor, the legislation cleared the Senate easily by a vote of 33-11. The House then ratified the amended bill with a 91-25 vote. Governor Tate Reeves, a pro-life Republican, is strongly expected to sign it into law. 

Mississippi is already one of the most pro-life states in the country. A twenty-four-hour waiting period before an abortion is required, and all minors must obtain parental consent before the procedure. Over the past three years, state legislators have attempted to pass laws banning abortion at fifteen weeks and once a heartbeat is detected, but they were both blocked by the courts. As usual, opponents of the Life Equality Act claim that the measure interferes with a woman’s private medical choices and bodily autonomy. Beth Orlandsky, advocacy director for the Mississippi Center for Justice, is representative of this opposing belief. “This unconstitutional restriction adversely affects poor women who do not have the means to seek assistance elsewhere,” she asserts. Susan B. Anthony List state policy director Sue Liebel, however, disagrees. “We are pleased to see the Life Equality Act advance one step closer to becoming law, thanks to the strong leadership of our pro-life allies in the Mississippi legislature,” she said in a press release. “Mississippi is a solidly pro-life state that understands abortions carried out because of a baby’s sex, race, or potential disability, such as Down syndrome, is no less than modern-day eugenics. Mississippians agree unborn children should be protected from this lethal discrimination.”

One would reasonably expect that medical eugenics would be a thing of the past in the United States, but the fact of the matter is that only nine states in America ban abortion because of sex, two ban abortion due to race, and just one state bans abortion due to genetic abnormalities. As one of the most conservative, pro-life states in the nation, it is no surprise that Mississippi would enact this common-sense legislation. We must be consistent: discrimination is under the microscope right now, and when we fight for racial and sexual equality, we must recognize that human rights and equality begin in the womb and last until the tomb. Preborn discrimination occurs globally, as many countries treat women as lesser people than men. Even in the United States, fetal discrimination is common. African-Americans make up roughly 10% of the population, but about 40% of all aborted children are black. Moreover, despite the recent push for disabled rights, many people still consider abortion the sympathetic option for genetically abnormal children, claiming that a potential life of difficulty and suffering renders their life worth ending. We must combat these reprehensible ideas. Every life is valuable, no matter the sex, no matter the race, no matter the disability. We applaud Mississippi’s Life Equality Act - but there is still much work to be done. It is a wonderful victory, but the fight continues. 


A Decision for the Ages?

In the last edition of The Life Line, I wrote about a crucial case regarding abortion rights in Louisiana. As a refresher, the bill in question would require abortionists to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their practice, imposing fines and penalties for those who fail to comply. Consequently, Louisiana would be left with just one abortion clinic as all others would be forced to close. Unsurprisingly, abortion rights activists are livid, claiming that the bill curtails women’s rights to abortion and violates women’s bodily autonomy. While I have already analyzed this looming decision (https://thecitizensbrief.substack.com/p/life-line-supreme-stakes-in-louisiana), the case deserves a second look in this edition. Why? Recently, Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the narrow majority in two surprising Supreme Court decisions, and his votes could signify a change in the trajectory of the court’s rulings. In June Medical Services v. Russo, all eyes are truly on the chief justice of the highest court in the land. 

Over the past few weeks, Roberts cast two shocking votes. First, he sided with justices Gorsuch, Kagan, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor in a 6-3 decision that included major ramifications for LGBTQ people in America. The ruling effectively redefined the 1964 Civil Rights Act to include protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, not just sex, causing some to accuse the Supreme Court of rewriting the law. Next, Roberts yet again aligned himself with the liberal justices in a 5-4 ruling that determined DACA was unconstitutional, in somewhat of a smack in the face to the Trump administration. These two votes reflect a potential shift in the trajectory of the Supreme Court as the Bush-appointed chief justice, historically considered to be a conservative, is beginning to vote with the liberal justices. 

The question begs to be asked: is this the start of a shift in John Roberts’s beliefs, or merely a blip on the radar? The Supreme Court is considered to be a conservative majority; will Roberts change that? The looming decision in the Louisiana abortion case will be telling. Should Roberts vote in favor, it likely pass. A victory would be a monumental achievement for the pro-life movement, and the chief justice’s pro-life stance would be reaffirmed. Should he vote against it, however, his alliance would begin to be questioned, and a shift in the Supreme Court’s dynamic would begin. Only time will tell how he will vote, but one thing is for certain: its impact will reverberate across the nation. America is watching John Roberts with tense anticipation.