Last year, Knoxville Republican Sen. Richard Briggs introduced a bill that would make small but significant changes to Tennessee’s abortion ban, allowing doctors to legally perform abortions in fatal cases.
But the bill faced fierce opposition from anti-abortion advocates and didn’t go as far as Briggs wanted, and now the veteran doctor plans to introduce new legislation that would allow legal termination of pregnancies in cases of severe fetal abnormalities.
Briggs is preparing to file the bill before next week’s filing deadline and is working with organizations such as the Tennessee Medical Association to develop it. The senator said they are discussing the exact details of what medical conditions or circumstances the law would cover, but he sees it as a fundamental parental rights and maternal health issue.
Briggs compared medical termination of pregnancy for “very severe congenital malformations that cannot survive outside the womb” to parents choosing palliative care for children with cancer who are no longer responding to treatment.
“When he’s born, he’s not going to be able to breathe, he’s going to gasp and die. Should the mother say, ‘I don’t want my child to go through this?'” Briggs said. “We’re talking about parental rights. Who gets to make these decisions?”
Briggs’ bill would join a slew of other health-related legislation filed in recent weeks.
Here are some of the most noteworthy.
“Contraception Freedom” Legislation
Senate Bill 1804 would provide for the right to access contraceptives, including emergency contraception and sterilization procedures.
The bill, filed by Sen. Charlan Oliver, D-Nashville, and Rep. Gloria Johnson, R-Knoxville, would also require private health insurance companies and public health agencies to cover the full cost of contraception for patients.
Tennessee lawmakers have yet to take action to restrict access to contraceptives, although some reproductive health advocates worry anti-abortion advocates plan to turn their sights to emergency contraceptives. Still, a resolution introduced in 2023 by Sen. Raumesh Akbari, D-Memphis, to affirm the Legislature’s intent to protect contraception failed to pass in a key committee.
more:Fact check: Tennessee’s new abortion law doesn’t ban Plan B, emergency contraceptive pills
maternal health equity
Sen. London Lamar, D-Memphis, wants to create a new gubernatorial advisory committee dedicated to maternal health equity. Lamar, who has spoken publicly about her previous life-threatening pregnancies, has long been an advocate for improving maternal health in Tennessee.
Senate Bill 1832 would establish the Tennessee Maternal Health Equity Advisory Commission, an 11-member board appointed by the governor to review maternal health data and identify disparities in maternal health care. The group will make recommendations within the Ministry of Health, focusing on ethnic minority women and urban and rural women.
Vaccine Exemptions for Foster Homes
Rep. Ron Gant, a Piepertonite, wants Tennessee foster families to be exempt from federal vaccination requirements under a program that helps subsidize state foster care programs with matching funds. States must meet certain eligibility requirements.
House Bill 2050 directs the state to request a federal waiver from the immunization requirement, the national standard for Title IV-E foster care programs.
Both Title IV-E and the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services have long-standing requirements that all family members of families with foster care infants (defined by DCS as infants 18 months and younger) must be up-to-date on whooping cough vaccinations. Family members raising infants and children with disabilities must receive an annual flu vaccine.
In general, all children in foster care must be up-to-date on immunizations as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (Standards for the Healthcare Industry). Exemptions can be made for personal health conditions when a doctor advises against vaccination.
Republican lawmakers passed another vaccine law last year that created hurdles for DCS to seek standard childhood vaccines for the thousands of children in its care. DCS must now seek a court order to vaccinate nearly every child in its custody, including those required by Tennessee public schools.
more: How a new “informed consent” law complicates childhood vaccinations in Tennessee
Senate Bill 1641 would require hospitals to allow one visit per day to a person designated as a patient’s power of attorney. Visitors will be subject to “non-invasive” health protocols established by the hospital, but hospitals cannot suspend visitation rights even in the event of a disaster or hospital emergency.
Similar legislation emerged in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, when some criticized health care facilities for blocking all visitors during the pandemic.
Sen. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon, introduced the bill, and Rep. Kip Capley, R-Summertown, supported the House version.
Drug Import Program
Lamar has filed Senate Bill 1765 to establish a prescription drug importation program, which the Memphis senator said would save taxpayers money amid soaring prescription drug costs in the United States.
The bill would require state officials to seek approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which signed off on a similar program in Florida earlier this year. Florida estimates it will save about $183 million annually and plans to begin using the program to provide “maintenance” drugs to patients with HIV/AIDS, mental illness and prostate cancer, among other things.
Rep. Larry Miller, D-Memphis, carries the House version of House Bill 1956.