NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee will soon have one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the nation.
Just after midnight Friday morning, state lawmakers passed a fetal heartbeat bill. The law was one that Gov. Bill Lee said was one of his priorities for the current legislative session, adding that he believes that "every human life is precious, and we have a responsibility to protect it."
The bill would ban abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, typically about six weeks into pregnancy. It's not uncommon for a fetal heartbeat to occur before a woman knows she is pregnant.
The bill would also require mothers to get an ultrasound before an abortion and would forbid an abortion when the doctor is aware the decision is motivated by race, sex, health or disability.
"It does that in a way that we believe is legally defensible," Rep. William Lamberth, R-Portland, said. "Every time we have passed a measure that was in favor of a life in the womb, it has been challenged in the courts. This bill is in such solid legal footing. We feel good about the fact that it could save millions of lives. And those lives are their most vulnerable because they are still in their mother's womb."
The passing of the bill shocked Democrats and anti-abortion activists because they had been told for weeks that the Senate would not take up the bill.
"The fetal heartbeat bill, which is one of the most extreme, anti-choice bills passed in the United States, was used as a trade-off by the House Republicans to get some budget concessions," Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Davidson County said. "I just don't think serious legislation like that should be used as a budget bargaining chip."
"Lack of access to abortion care particularly harms those struggling financially and those who already face significant barriers to health care, including people of color, people with limited incomes, rural people, and young people," the American Civil Liberties Union said in a statement. "Politicians should not be deciding what is best for women and certainly not making reproductive health care decisions for them. As promised, we will see them in court."
Lee is expected to sign the bill into law soon.
Several states have passed similar bills, many of which have been blocked by appeals courts.
This story was originally published by Bethany Davison on WTVF in Nashville.