Tennessee bill would give fathers abortion veto power if paternity is established

Protesters on both sides of the abortion issue gather in front of the U.S. Supreme Court building during the Right To Life March, on January 18, 2019, in Washington, D.C. |

Two Tennessee lawmakers proposed a bill last week that would allow fathers of unborn children to petition a court for an injunction to prohibit pregnant mothers from obtaining abortions, one of the more controversial proposals in a wave of pro-life legislation across the nation.

State Sen. Mark Pody and Rep. Jerry Sexton, both Republicans, sponsored the bill, which does not include exceptions in rape or incest cases.

Pody said Wednesday he proposed the bill after hearing a Tennessee resident’s concern that a father has no say over the abortion of his child.

“I believe a father should have a right to say what's gonna be happening to that child,” Pody said, according to The Tennessean. “And if somebody is going to kill that child, he should be able to say, ‘No, I don't want that child to be killed. I want to able to raise that child and love that child.’”

The bill, SB494/HB1079, has been referred to the Tennessee Senate Judiciary Committee and has been filed for introduction in the Tennessee House of Representatives.

The bill would allow the judge to grant the petition if the paternity “is not subject to be rescinded or challenged.”

If the mother acknowledges the man’s paternity, DNA proof is not required. Claiming fatherhood would make the man obligated to support the child.

The bill has faced criticism from pro-abortion rights groups who say it is “unconstitutional” and “extreme.” They argue that men should not have any control over women’s bodies. 

ACLU Tennessee Executive Director Hedy Weinburg said in a statement shared by The Tennessean that “this extreme and dangerous bill would even allow a rapist to stop his victim from ending a pregnancy.”

However, Pody believes it is not likely a rapist will voluntarily claim paternity and incriminate himself.

"If somebody comes up and says, 'Yes, I raped her and I'm the father,' he should immediately go to jail," Pody said. "I just do not believe that somebody is gonna come in and say, 'I committed this crime, I'm guilty of this crime. Put me in jail.'"

The Tennessean reports that under the legislation, a judge would grant the petition as long as the petitioner proves he’s the biological father and there is a “reasonable possibility” that a woman will seek an abortion. 

Although a father would be able to deny an abortion once paternity is established, he would not be able to rescind or challenge parental obligations.

"He can't turn around under any circumstance and say, 'I was wrong, and it's not mine,'" Pody was quoted as saying. 

The Christian Post reached out to Tennessee Right to Life for comment on the legislation. A response was not received by press time. 

Abortion access in Tennessee is very limited, and there are already measures in place banning abortion after the fetal heartbeat is detected, which is around six weeks. “Reason bans,” which restrict receiving an abortion for the reasons of the child’s gender, race, or a Down syndrome diagnosis,  were signed into law in July.

These laws were met with legal action filed by groups like American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood Federation of America and others. A federal appeals court ultimately ruled in November that the state of Tennessee can enforce the “reason bans.” 

But on Friday, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied the state’s request to stay an injunction issued by a lower court against a law that requires a 48-hour waiting period for women to get an abortion. The lower court injunction will remain in effect until the appeals court can rule on the case's merits. 

Tennessee is not the only state to introduce a “heartbeat bill” and anti-abortion measures. On Thursday, South Carolina passed legislation banning abortion once the heartbeat is detected. The legislation passed withoverwhelming support.

With the recent transition from a pro-life Trump administration to the pro-abortion Biden administration, Students for Life of America and Students for Life Action president Kristan Hawkins said she believes Americans will begin to “see a wave of pro-life legislation” from the state level.

“We have 27 republican governors. Republicans have control of the majority of statehouses in this country. What we saw during the Obama years is exactly what we’re going to see here again where you had over 300 pro-life laws passed in eight years that Barak Obama was president of the United States,” Hawkins told The Christian Post in a recent interview. 

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