Kaylee Sheppard

Last month, the Tennessee Senate Judiciary Committee hosted a hearing regarding a total abortion ban bill that could potentially be at play next legislative session.

The proposed bill would be one of the most restrictive passed in the country, defining life beginning at conception, as opposed to many other anti-abortion laws that ban the procedure at six weeks.

The laws are usually passed with the goal of trying to overturn Roe v. Wade, a ruling by the Supreme Court in 1973 that legalized abortion all over the country. But the reality is that no abortion ban has been held constitutional at any federal court since the ruling. And time and time again states spend millions in tax payer dollars on legal fees and legal hours to attempt to push these laws forward.

For example, the state of Alabama had to pay the ACLU 1.7 million after a failed legal battle over a 2013 law that required abortion doctors to have hospital admitting privileges.

Many Tennessee lawmakers look at this anti-abortion law as a triumph for life. But here is the thing: Tennessee conservatives are not pro-life.

If they were pro-life, they wouldn’t even consider passing a law like this and wasting millions of taxpayer dollars to fight it in court just for it to be overturned like every other abortion ban that has hit a federal court thus far. Just last session, the Supreme Court declined to revive a 15-week abortion ban from the state of Alabama.

If they were pro-life they would use that money to expand Medicaid and improve healthcare for all Tennesseans, or to invest in an effective sex education program that would lower teen pregnancy rates.

If Tennessee lawmakers were so concerned about life, they would be talking about the state’s dreadful maternal mortality rate. In 2018, it was estimated an average 23.3 per 100,000 mothers died due to pregnancy or child birth. This is a 21% increase from previous study years. Tennessee rates are much higher than much of the rest of the country.

If Tennessee lawmakers were so worried about “life,” we would be rushing to solve our infant mortality crisis in the state. Tennessee’s rate is at 7.2 per 1,000 infants, which is an increase from 2016.

If Tennessee lawmakers are so determined to preserve life, why aren’t we addressing the rise in teen suicide in the state? Teen suicide raised 14% to 11.2 deaths per 100,000 teens.

The opioid epidemic is also an outlet for the Tennessee State Legislature to work on their crusade for life. The state has seen a steady increase of drug deaths over the years.

And if the legislature is so pro-life, we should be seeing incredible amount of gun regulation legislation considering we are number 11 for gun-related deaths in the country.

But here is the thing: None of this will happen because Tennessee is not pro-life. These abortion laws they try to pass year after year are about one thing and one thing only — controlling women’s bodies and stealing their reproductive freedom. These laws are meant to strike fear in women and control their economic and family-planning freedom.

During my time this summer working for the ACLU of Georgia, which at the time was preparing to file their own lawsuit against the recent Georgia heartbeat bill, I learned these laws are vastly unpopular. If Tennessee lawmakers know what’s good for them and their seats, they will not pass this new abortion ban.

Whatever your political views may be, there is one thing we should be able to agree on: Knowingly passing a law that will waste millions of taxpayer dollars, will not stand on the federal level and restricts women’s constitutional rights is not good for the state of Tennessee.

Kaylee Sheppard is a senior majoring in American Studies and Political Science. She can be reached at ksheppa7@vols.utk.edu.

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