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Lee leading Tennessee ‘toward justice,’ ERLC’s Moore says

NASHVILLE (BP) — Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore has commended Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee’s multi-faceted proposal to protect unborn children.

Lee reiterated during his State of the State address Feb. 3 his intention to present legislation to the Tennessee legislature that would prohibit an abortion when a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which can be as early as six weeks. The legislative package, which the governor initially announced Jan. 23, also includes provisions to:

— Ban abortion when the doctor knows the request for the procedure is driven by the race, sex or health/disability diagnosis of a child;

— Require an ultrasound test before a woman undergoes an abortion.

Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said of Lee’s proposed legislation, “Protecting vulnerable human beings from violence is the most basic responsibility of the state.”

Lee “recognizes this and is leading Tennessee toward justice for these vulnerable among us, including the unborn,” Moore said in written comments for Baptist Press. “Indeed, he has stood for life and human dignity all of his life, long before serving in government. I support those efforts and pray that other states will see such courage and vision as a model to emulate.”

In his State of the State speech at the Capitol in Nashville, the governor said, “For me, 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, and there is none more vulnerable than the unborn.”

Lee offered a personal account “that has strengthened my resolve in this very important subject,” he said. His son’s wife gave birth to identical twin girls months before their due date, the governor recalled.

“When I walked into the neonatal intensive care unit, I stared in wonder at a one-pound, five-ounce baby girl — with tubes and cords and monitors — fighting for her life,” Lee told state legislators and others. “As I watched little Annie, I was reminded once again that every life is precious.

“[W]e will support pro-life policy in this state because everything precious is worth protecting.”

The governor’s fetal heartbeat proposal will include what is known as a “ladder” provision, according to his office. Patterned after a 2019 Missouri law, the section would include prohibitions at two-week intervals further into the pregnancy — along with severability clauses at each step — in an effort to assure approval at some point in the court system.

The legislative text of the governor’s proposed package has yet to be filed.

Lee’s pro-life proposal is another part of an ongoing, nationwide debate that has turned the states into battlegrounds over abortion.

Both houses of Virginia’s legislature — now controlled by Democrats — passed bills in late January to rescind pro-life measures, including informed consent and ultrasound provisions. If the proposals are reconciled, Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam is expected to sign the legislation into law.

States have enacted a flurry of abortion laws — primarily pro-life ones — in the last decade.

Last year, Alabama passed a ban on abortion throughout pregnancy, while Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi and Ohio enacted fetal heartbeat prohibitions. Missouri approved a ban on abortion after eight weeks of gestation. Arkansas and Utah passed bans on abortion after 18 weeks.

Other states to enact pro-life laws in 2019 included Indiana, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Dakota.

States acting to expand abortion rights last year included Illinois, Maine, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont.

The wave of abortion-related legislation in the states has occurred as abortion-rights advocates have issued warnings about a U.S. Supreme Court that has apparently become more conservative with the addition of two nominees from President Trump. They fear the current court could overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade opinion, which struck down all state abortion bans and legalized the procedure throughout the country.

The Supreme Court affirmed Roe v. Wade in a 1992 opinion but also ruled states may regulate abortion to protect the lives and health of women.