Briggs to anti-abortion lobby: Bring it

Betty BeanKnox Scene

State Sen. Richard Briggs does a lot of reading. This week he says he’s thinking that he might need to study up on drag shows.

He was joking.


Or maybe not, since I’d called to ask him about issues that are going to be deliberated by the 113th Tennessee General Assembly, which convenes January 10, and Republicans nationwide have prioritized beating up on drag queens as one of their top priorities. Tennessee Republicans have taken up the cause by criminalizing gender reassignment surgery as “mutilation” and moving to prohibit minors from attending family-friendly drag shows and reading hours.

Briggs, a recently retired heart surgeon and Army colonel, doesn’t drink alcohol, doesn’t go to bars and isn’t familiar with any drag performers except the ones he has seen in movies or on TV (White Christmas, Some Like It Hot and M.A.S.H.). He sounds a little perplexed about this issue.

“I’ve only been to one concert, ever – Earl Scruggs at the Tennessee Theatre – and we don’t even have a TV at our house,” he said.

But his most immediate legislative concern is amending the 2019 Human Life Protection Act (AKA the Tennessee Trigger Law), written to take effect as soon as the U.S. Supreme Court reversed Roe v Wade – which, of course, happened this summer. Briggs, who had a perfect “pro-life” voting record, supported the bill without reading it and relied on anti-abortion lobbyists’ assurances that exceptions were written in to cover rape and incest victims and to preserve the life and/or health of the mother.

He said it seemed like just another anti-abortion bill at the time, and he had no reason to believe that Roe would fall, since the new batch of Republican justices who dominate the conservative majority promised – under oath at their Senate confirmation hearings – that they have a deep respect for legal precedent, like Roe v Wade.

Now, he has learned that Supreme Court justices aren’t the only ones willing to lie about this issue. His colleagues, the House and Senate sponsors, claimed that their bill contained “exceptions” to protect rape/incest victims and preserve the life and/or health of the mother.

He was surprised to discover – after the bill became law – that there were no such exceptions, only an “affirmative defense” that will be available to physicians who are being prosecuted for performing abortions. This means that doctors are subject to arrest, loss of license and the expense of a trial if they perform an abortion to save the life of the mother, for example.

This Pro Publica investigative examines how far the anti-choice lobby is willing to go to protect this law:

I contacted Briggs this week to see how he was feeling about being denounced by Tennessee Right to Life PAC President Roger Kane, a former member of the state House who most recently got a mudhole stomped in him by Sherry Witt when he ran against her for County Clerk in the 2018 GOP primary. Kane is president of the Tennessee Right to Life PAC. Briggs doesn’t seem to be losing sleep over Kane’s blustering:

“He’s going to have to do a lot of revoking,” Briggs said, suggesting that he has gotten considerable GOP support for changing the law.

For most of his years in Knoxville, Briggs’ home base was the old St. Mary’s Hospital, which was run by the Sisters of Mercy when he arrived. He sat on the Ethics Committee and says the “Tennessee Trigger” law is more restrictive than Catholic doctrine and cites cases of anencephalic infants who are born without brains and typically survive only minutes after birth.

“Imagine forcing women to carry those pregnancies to term,” he said. “And in Tennessee, doctors who are unwilling to do that better be more than afraid – that doctor is presumed guilty and is going to jail.”

Betty Bean writes a Thursday opinion column for

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