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Observations by a Citizen
When Does Life Begin in Tennessee?
The legislative struggle in Nashville to defend the right to life will be resuming as 2020 begins. This effort has been recurring over the years since 1973, when the U.S. Supreme Court declared that abortion is a right. That decision and the current legislative approach deserve a brief look.
The Supreme Court, in “Roe v. Wade,” held that the only critical question was whether a Texas law prohibiting abortion violated the mother’s “right of privacy,” which included the right to determine what to do with her own body. In order to dodge the question of whether the unborn child might have rights that complicated the woman’s choice, the court had to dismiss that argument by concluding that:
"We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins. When those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy, and theology are unable to arrive at any consensus, the judiciary, at this point in the development of man's knowledge, is not in a position to speculate as to the answer.”
But, this denied the existing answer to that troublesome question. In Tennessee, the current version of that law is: T. C. A. 68-3-501. Uniform Determination of Death Act:
(b) An individual who has sustained either:
(1) Irreversible cessation of circulatory and respiratory functions; [I.E. “heartbeat”] or
(2) Irreversible cessation of all functions of the entire brain, including the brain stem,
Simple logic tells us that the law presumes that life is the opposite of death – so life has begun when there is a heartbeat and a brain, however early in their functioning. That is the law – but the Supreme Court avoided it. That has led to the millions of legal abortions across the USA since 1973.
Moving to recent developments, several states have reconsidered Roe v. Wade by acknowledging that a heartbeat is undeniable proof that a child is alive in the womb. (And natal science has found that most babies have a heartbeat by 22 days, although that is scornfully dismissed by Senator Robinson of Memphis.) Those who claim the title of “Pro Choice” argue that this does not supersede the right of the mother to “self determination” for her own body.
In the 2019 legislative session the “Heartbeat Bill” was blocked and, in August, was reviewed in “Summer Study.” This led to a deeper analysis, and the significantly modified bill that will be considered in 2020 relies on this analysis.
Former State Senator and current head of the Family Action Council of Tennessee (“FACT”), David Fowler, and Senator Mark Pody, with Rep. Micah Van Huss, have taken another look at the Constitution, plus medical science. They have reached a solid ground for finally concluding just what rights the child has before birth, and when they start.
The analysis begins with the 9th Amendment, which protects all the rights that preceded our Constitution but are not “enumerated” (specifically listed) in it. These are the rights “endowed by our creator,” as stated in the Declaration of Independence, which specifically lists “life.”
A live child is, obviously a “person.” And the 14th Amendment to the Constitution addresses this right once more, specifically:
“…nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws …”
The “heartbeat” test shows that the child has lived long enough to grow a heart – so when did his life actually begin? When the fertilized egg attaches to the wall of the womb, the mother produces a new hormone, which is easily tested for. This is the new measure for when the child is alive – and when a new person gains the right to have that life protected. This is the starting point for the proposed legislation.