Capitol Hill Update from State Representative David Byrd: General Assembly Passes Pro-Life Legislation

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state representative david byrd

   111th General Assembly passes major pro-life legislation banning abortion when a fetal heartbeat is detected — Major pro-life legislation, which includes a prohibition on abortions where a fetal heartbeat exists, was approved before the close of the 2020 legislative session. The comprehensive life-affirming bill, which was part of Governor Bill Lee’s legislative priorities, seeks to protect the life of the unborn.

   Public Chapter 764 includes a layered structure that prohibits abortion after the unborn child reaches certain gestational age milestones. The “ladder” provision bans abortion at 11 gestational age milestones ranging from 6 weeks to 24 weeks, with severability clauses for each step of the ladder. It is modeled after a Missouri law to protect against legal challenges. A medical emergency exception is provided, under the bill, if certain requirements are met. The bill’s multi-provision approach significantly enhances Tennessee’s pro-life laws, while testing the limits of current court precedents.

   The legislation calls for mothers to undergo an ultrasound prior to an abortion where the gestational age and the fetal heartbeat will be determined. It also prohibits discriminatory abortion based on the unborn child’s race, sex, or Down syndrome diagnosis. 

   The legislation requires abortion facilities to display signage informing women that a chemical abortion may be reversed following the first dose of a two-pill protocol. It requires a physician to provide the same information during informed consent, 48 hours prior to the abortion procedure.

   Finally, the legislation eliminates the requirement that the Department of Children’s Services provide court advocates and other information about judicial procedures to minors who are considering an abortion.

   General Assembly votes to expand Tennessee’s Safe Haven Law — Legislation expanding Tennessee’s Safe Haven Law was adopted this year. Public Chapter 684 allows mothers to safely and anonymously surrender their unharmed newborns to certain facilities throughout the state without fear of prosecution for abandonment. Public Chapter 684 increases the maximum age of an infant that can be surrendered under the Safe Haven Law from 72 hours old to 14 days old.

   Tennessee has over 750 facilities where mothers can surrender their children including hospitals, birthing centers, community health clinics, walk-in clinics, EMS facilities, and certain fire stations and police stations. Since the Safe Haven Law was adopted in 2001, over 100 newborns have been surrendered to approved locations in Tennessee. All fifty states have safe haven policies in place, and the time frames to surrender infants across the country range from three days to one year.

   General Assembly approves legislation raising the minimum age to purchase tobacco products to 21 – A new law was approved to raise the age from 18 to 21 to purchase, possess, transport, smoke or consume any tobacco, hemp or vapor products. Last December, President Trump signed into law a provision in the federal budget making it a violation to sell tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21, including e-cigarettes and vaping cartridges. Public Chapter 732 puts state statutes in harmony with federal law and ensures that Tennessee will continue to receive $32 million in federal block grant funds.

   The use of vaping products has grown dramatically over the past several years among youth. A U.S. Food and Drug Administration study shows that 20.8 percent of high schoolers are considered frequent users of e-cigarettes. 

   The Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse partners with Department of Agriculture each year to ensure tobacco products are not sold to underage individuals. Federal block grant funds provide prevention treatment and recovery support services and activities for people at risk or who have substance abuse disorders.

   The legislation requires any person under 21 years of age who directly or indirectly purchases or attempts to purchase smoking paraphernalia using fake identification be subject to the jurisdiction of the appropriate general sessions court.

   As always, I am truly humbled and honored to be your voice on Capitol Hill. If there is ever any issue I can assist with, please reach out to my office by calling 615-741-2190 or emailing me at rep.david.byrd@capitol.tn.gov.