State Abortion Foes Split Over How Best To Test Roe v. Wade : Shots - Health News Ohio is the latest Republican-led state to pass a ban on abortion once a fetal heartbeat can be detected. But Tennessee this week backed off a similar bill, fearing costly legal battles. What now?
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Republican State Lawmakers Split Over Anti-Abortion Strategy

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Republican State Lawmakers Split Over Anti-Abortion Strategy

Republican State Lawmakers Split Over Anti-Abortion Strategy

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Yesterday, Ohio became the sixth state to pass a bill outlawing abortions at the point a fetal heartbeat can be detected. Republicans in state capitols across the country seem eager to test the limits of Roe v. Wade now that conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh is on the U.S. Supreme Court. But this surge of legislation also has led to some infighting among anti-abortion activists, as Blake Farmer of member station WPLN reports.

BLAKE FARMER, BYLINE: These so-called heartbeat bills would outlaw abortion after roughly six weeks, when a fetal heartbeat can be detected. That's before many women even know they're pregnant. As Tennessee lawmakers pushed forward a heartbeat bill this year, Planned Parenthood sent Skip Rudsenske (ph), a volunteer attorney, to the Statehouse to argue against it.

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SKIP RUDSENSKE: For the last 40 years since Roe v. Wade, every state law attempting to ban abortion prior to viability has been struck down.

FARMER: But several states are now ready to challenge decades of precedent. For a long time, Ohio Right to Life supported a gradual approach and felt a heartbeat bill was just too radical - until this year. Spokesperson Jamieson Gordon says they changed their minds after the appointment of Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

JAMIESON GORDON: And we see the court as being much more favorable in - to pro-life legislation than it has been in a generation. And so we figured this would be a good time to pursue the heartbeat bill as the next step in our incremental approach to end abortion on demand.

FARMER: Some say the rush to pass these bills is about lawmakers competing to get their particular state's law before the Supreme Court. The state that helps overturn Roe v. Wade would go down in history. But it's also exposed some fundamental disagreements within the anti-abortion movement about just how far to go. For example, Ohio's bill made no exceptions for cases of rape and incest. But the heartbeat bill that passed in Georgia did. Zemmie Fleck of Georgia Right to Life had a big problem with that.

ZEMMIE FLECK: It really just does not go far enough in the protection of the innocent human life.

FARMER: Georgia Right to Life withdrew support from the heartbeat legislation, preferring no bill rather than one Fleck sees as watered down.

FLECK: We do believe that more is possible, and more was possible.

FARMER: In many ways, this is a split between pragmatists and idealists, both of whom think of themselves as pro-life.

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TERRI LYNN WEAVER: By golly, Tennessee will join the ranks of those states who believe in the innocent.

FARMER: State Representative Terri Lynn Weaver was one of the most vocal backers as Tennessee considered its heartbeat bill this year. It's had high-profile support, including from the state's new governor. But the Republican attorney general warned it would be difficult to defend in court. And several Republicans listened to that and voted no for the heartbeat bill, like State Representative Bill Dunn.

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BILL DUNN: This is an issue that's extremely important to me. It's the reason I got into politics many years ago.

FARMER: Dunn says he wants to stop abortion, but it requires strategy. He points out that no heartbeat bill has ever really been enforced. And recent laws in Iowa and Kentucky have been immediately blocked in court.

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DUNN: Number one, it'll probably never save a life, if we go by what's happened in the past.

FARMER: But it's money that ultimately stopped the heartbeat bill this year in Tennessee. Senate Speaker Randy McNally says he's pro-life, too, but has no interest in wasting tax dollars to make a point. And even worse, the state could end up paying the legal fees for groups that defend abortion.

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RANDY MCNALLY: That is a big concern. We don't want to put money in their pockets.

FARMER: The last time Tennessee had a case that went to the U.S. Supreme Court, it cost roughly $2 million dollars. That case was about gay marriage, but the experience was enough to give a few anti-abortion crusaders some pause. They voted this week with Democrats for a one-year delay on a heartbeat bill. For NPR News, I'm Blake Farmer in Nashville.

SHAPIRO: This story is part of a partnership with NPR, WPLN and Kaiser Health News.

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