MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced Thursday morning he is working with lawmakers this legislative session to develop some of the strictest anti-abortion legislation in the county. Thursday evening, Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi made their first public statements, speaking out against the proposal.
More than one week into 2020's legislative session and Tennessee Governor Bill Lee said Thursday restriction abortion legislation is coming. Specifics of the final proposal aren't set, as the legislation is still being written.
"I believe we have a special responsibility to protect the most vulnerable members of our community. No one is more vulnerable than the unborn," Lee said.
Lee, flanked by conservative lawmakers, told reporters the measure would ban an abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected. Lee's office also said it would require a mother to undergo an ultrasound before an abortion and prevent abortion where the doctor is aware the decision may be motivated by race, sex, health, or disability of the fetus.
A spokesperson for the governor said Thursday the provision would include an exception for the mother's life, but exceptions for rape or incest were currently not included.
Thursday evening Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi questioned the need for the bill and said Lee and other lawmakers have their healthcare priorities in the wrong place, choosing to focus on abortion instead of expanding Medicaid in the state, which would keep rural hospitals open and help more of the population.
“I think we can all agree that we want to see unintended pregnancies reduced,” said Francie Hunt, with Tennessee Advocates for Planned Parenthood. “And one of the best ways we know how to do that is through healthcare access, affordability, as well as sex education.”
Abortion remains one of the nation's most divisive issues, with liberal states passing legislation in recent years to protect it, while conservative states have restricted it, teeing the fight up for a possible return to the U.S. Supreme Court.
WMC Action News 5 political analyst Michael Nelson said for Lee the issue is more personal than political.
"Governor Lee is willing to make conservatives mad, he did with his refugee policy, and make liberals mad, which he is doing with his pro-life policy on abortion. In his mind, it's not inconsistent at all. It comes out of his Christian faith and his understanding of how that applies to public policy," said Nelson.
Lee said his legislation would be submitted to the General Assembly this year though a time was not given. Planned Parenthood has promised a legal challenge if it is passed.
Planned Parenthood had already planned an advocacy day in Nashville for Tuesday, Jan. 28.