One of Monroe County’s elected officials in the Tennessee House of Representatives believes legislation opposing abortion is on the horizon.

State Rep. Mark Cochran (R-Englewood), who represents Monroe County in Tennessee’s 23rd Congressional District, voted in favor of an amended House Bill 77 that was passed on first consideration by the House earlier this year. HB 77 is the companion bill to Senate Bill 1236, which is currently under review by the Tennessee Senate Judiciary Committee for consideration when the General Assembly reconvenes in January.

SB 1236, introduced by State Sen. Mark Pody (R-Lebanon), would effectively make abortions unlawful in the state. State Sen. Mike Bell (R-Riceville), who also represents Monroe County in Tennessee’s 9th District, supports legislation prohibiting abortions. Bell is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

These bills are sometimes referred to as “heartbeat bills,” however, Bell noted in an interview with The Daily Post-Athenian that the Tennessee proposal is based on a different criteria than detection of a fetal heartbeat. As amended, it would prohibit abortions when the presence of a hormone called hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin) is detected. This is the hormone that shows up positive on a pregnancy test.

As currently written, the bill makes certain exceptions when the life of the mother is endangered by the pregnancy or if a potential medical emergency exists. In these cases, specific documentation must be submitted by the presiding physician to verify these conditions.

The challenge currently facing state lawmakers who support this bill is to craft legislation that can hold up to potential legal scrutiny and ultimately challenge Roe v. Wade — the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision of 1973 that made abortion legal throughout the United States. Powerful lobbying groups like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Planned Parenthood strongly oppose this type of legislation.

Cochran supports the spirit of the bill, but much like Bell, his counterpart in the Senate, he expects the bill is likely to be modified before it returns to the House.

“I imagine the Senate will send back over to us a version that is different — I would expect theirs to look different in some ways,” said Cochran.

Cochran noted the Senate’s collaboration with David Fowler, a supporter of the bill and president of Family Action Council of Tennessee — a faith-based lobbying and advocacy group.

“I think he’ll probably have some influence on their bill, which I think is a good thing,” explained Cochran. “He’s a legal scholar.

“I think the bill will be strengthened,” continued Cochran. “The House will obviously have to take it back up at that point and some compromise will be made, but I would expect that the bill passes, ultimately. I just don’t know, compared to what it looks like now, what the final form will be, but I do think we’ll have a strong bill that protects life.”

The bill that passed the House in March was based on the fetal heartbeat criteria. Similar “heartbeat bills” have been consistently blocked or struck down by the courts.

Cochran concurred with Bell’s assessment that the ultimate goal of this legislation should be to fend off potential legal challenges and eventually to successfully overturn Roe v. Wade.

“I’ve always been very openly pro-life,” said Cochran. “I do think it is possible (this bill) could ultimately end up in the highest court in the land. I think that is why it’s important that we make sure that the bill is as strong as possible and written well. Most likely, it will have to stand against an ultimate court challenge. It’s a move in the right direction in recognizing life. I don’t think it’s the final step, but it’s a great step toward making sure that life is protected.”

Cochran fully supports exceptions being written into the bill to protect the life of a pregnant mother.

“In any situation when the life of the mother is at risk, when there is true danger to the life of the mother, I believe that is warranted,” said Cochran. “I’m glad the bill takes a strong stance on that and makes sure that we also look after the health and wellbeing of the mom, but also, at the same time, acknowledging that life that exists inside her.”

Cochran believes the bill will eventually gain majority support in both chambers of the General Assembly.

“I think we’ll get to a place where both bodies can support it,” he said. “I would very much expect it to be considered in the next session. I feel like we’re at a time when there is a lot of momentum to protect the lives of the unborn and I hope Tennessee is able to join that cause in the very near future.”

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