Republicans split on fetal heartbeat bill

Frank CagleFrank Talk

The last couple of legislative sessions it seemed that the state Senate would pass whatever bill was put before it. It was up to the House committee system to sort out what needed passage and what needed to die a quiet death. This session, with two dozen new members, the House seems ready to stampede at the drop of a hat, and it will be up to the state Senate to slow things down for reconsideration.


The state House overwhelmingly passed (65-21) a fetal heartbeat bill, meaning that an abortion cannot be performed if the fetus has a detectable heartbeat.

You know something is wrong when a bill to restrict abortions is opposed by people like state Rep. Bill Dunn and former state Sen. David Fowler of the Family Action Council of Tennessee. Dunn is a longtime leader in the Tennessee Right to Life movement and Fowler is a lobbyist on social issues from anti-gay marriage to anti-abortion. Dunn put up a “blue light” meaning he was present but not voting, as did six of his colleagues. Fowler sent out a blog post opposing the bill. Tennessee Right to Life is on record as opposing the bill.

So, what gives?

Dunn and Fowler and Lt. Gov. Randy McNally point out that the bill has flaws, is not carefully crafted and is an almost certain loser when it gets to court – as it inevitably will. And the result will be an award of huge attorney fees to Planned Parenthood, the nemesis of conservative Republicans everywhere.

Similar bills have been overturned in North Dakota, Iowa and Arkansas. And if a federal judge gets to looking at a case concerning Tennessee abortion laws it is likely that some restrictions that the Right to Life movement has in place could be thrown out as well.

Dunn prefers that the legislature pass a bill that bans abortion, period. And should Roe v. Wade be overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, abortions would be outlawed in Tennessee. There is no one in the legislature who has been there longer than McNally. Dunn is a veteran not only of the legislature but also on the issue of abortion. Why then did 60-some-odd Republican House members ignore the warning and rush the fetal heartbeat bill to passage?

There are Republican House members who got elected, at least partly, on the abortion issue. They needed to pass “something.” Once they got the bill far enough along, other Republican House members, lacking Dunn’s backbone and his credentials, were afraid not to vote for it. They didn’t want to have to go home and try to explain their vote. Because it’s complicated.

So, the House members who passed this bill are either cowards or members who put crass political gamesmanship over principle. They did not pass legislation that will actually limit abortions. They passed a campaign brochure and committed the state to expensive litigation almost sure to fail. (Then there is also the possibility that some of the members who voted for the bill are just too stupid to live.)

State Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, was again dissed by House Speaker Glen Casada. Johnson stood to be recognized to offer an amendment to the fetal heartbeat bill that carved out an exemption for rape or incest. While she was asking to be recognized, the Republicans “called for the question.” That means debate stops and a vote is taken. So, the House voted passage of the bill without hearing Johnson’s proposed amendment. It was a rare instance of discourtesy to a member.

Price tag: Gov. Bill Lee has proposed $25 million to fund vouchers (excuse me, education savings plans) so money isn’t taken from public schools, he says. His policy adviser admitted to reporters that within three years that budget figure will grow to $100 million per year. That is new money, so it will have to come from the existing budget or from another revenue source.

Not news anymore? It used to be page one news when someone was nominated to the TVA board, but I guess we just don’t care anymore. But in case you don’t read the Chattanooga paper, President Trump last week nominated William Kilbride to the board. Kilbride headed the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce for three years and is a former executive of Mohawk Industries.

Historical tangles: Nathan Bedford Forrest was a Democrat. Democratic state senator and Civil War buff Douglas Henry got his bust placed in the Capitol rotunda. But now the Democrats want the bust of the early Klan leader removed and the Republicans are refusing. But there is another bust nearby, that of Sampson Keeble, the first black legislator in Tennessee, elected in Davidson County in 1872. Keeble, a former slave, was a barber and businessman in Nashville. But unlike Forrest, he was a Republican. He did serve in the Civil War. But he was in the Confederate Army, likely serving as a cook.

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