Tennessee Abortion Opt-Out Becomes Law without Gov.’s Signature

A Tennessee law opting the state out of the new national health care reform’s abortion mandate went into effect Wednesday, after Democratic governor Phil Bredesen refused to either sign or veto legislation passed by overwhelming majorities in both chambers of Tennessee’s state house.

The law forbids insurance companies receiving public subsidies in the state-run health exchange from offering or requiring abortion coverage when the exchanges come online in 2014.

Bills approved by the legislature in Tennessee can take effect even if the governor declines to take action on them. A veto from Bredesen, who is pro-abortion, would likely have been an act of political futility, as the measure (HB 2681 / SB 2686) had passed the state House 70-23 and the state Senate 27-3.

The law states: “No health care plan required to be established in this state through an exchange pursuant to federal health care reform legislation enacted by the 111th Congress shall offer coverage for abortion services.”

The bill will not alter the state’s TennCare program, which provides Medicaid subsidies for abortions only in the cases of rape, incest, and the life of the mother as mandated by federal law.

Tennessee’s General Assembly was the first state legislature in the U.S. to pass legislation eliminating elective abortion as a benefit in federally required health care exchanges. However, while Bredesen let the bill remain on his desk, Arizona beat Tennessee as the first state to opt-out of the abortion funding mandate, with pro-life Governor Jan Brewer signing similar legislation into law.

Lawmakers devised the bill by following model legislation developed by Americans United for Life (AUL), which intends to take the abortion-health care fight to the states. The AUL model “Federal Abortion-Mandate Opt-Out Act” exploits a provision in the Senate health care bill that explicitly allows the state-run health insurance exchanges to prevent federal money from subsidizing health insurance companies that offer co-pays for abortion.

Americans United for Life, which drafted legislation for any state interested in opting out of the abortion mandate of President Obama’s new health care law, has said that numerous states have expressed interest so far. The latest state to axe abortion funding for insurance policies in the state health exchanges is Florida, where pro-life advocates hope Gov. Charlie Christ will sign the measure – which includes a requirement for abortion providers to give pregnant women ultrasounds – into law.

Tennessee Right to Life (TRTL) showered praise on lawmakers for their work in this legislative session to protect human life, and drew particular attention to leaders in both the House and Senate.

“Pro-life citizens around the state are grateful to our new House Speaker, Kent Williams, for making the protection of life a priority, just as he said he would,” commented Brian Harris, president of Tennessee Right to Life.  “And without the principled counsel and long-time leadership of Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey, this session’s victories for life would never have been realized.”

According to TRTL, the passage of the “abortion opt out” bill was the crowning jewel of other easily-passed pro-life bills. These include bills that removed priority status from abortion-provider Planned Parenthood, redirected family planning funds to local health departments which do not perform abortions, and required posting of the state’s non-coercion policy in private offices and facilities which perform abortions.

Tennessee also saw the first passage of SJR 127, a resolution requiring a public vote in 2014 to make the Tennessee Constitution neutral once again on the matter of abortion.

See related coverage by LifeSiteNews.com:

Florida Axes Taxpayer Abortion Mandate from Health Care Exchanges

Undercover Videos Prompt Tennessee Lawmakers to End Preferential Treatment for Planned Parenthood

Tennessee Legislature: Abortionists Must Warn Clients against Coerced Abortion

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