Tennessee has long had a law that allowed prosecutors to charge someone for harming a “viable fetus” — defined as about the 32nd week after conception — when someone kills or assaults a pregnant woman. Last year, lawmakers expanded that definition to apply to any fetus.
Now, they’re looking to criminalize harm to embryos, the cells that are formed before a fetus develops eight weeks after conception. Proponents of the bill say it would clarify last year’s expanded fetal harm bill, but critics say it will be difficult to prosecute because some pregnancies end naturally at that stage. They argue this is simply a fight over abortion:
[I]t will be difficult for prosecutors to prove that an embryo miscarried because of someone else’s action and not from natural causes, predicted Rep. Jeanne Richardson, D-Memphis. [...] “I think your original bill may have been OK and we voted for that. I think extending that would be iffy.”
Opponents gradually linked the measure to the abortion debate.
Rep. Johnnie Turner, D-Memphis, said the measure would give “veiled support” to the anti-abortion movement by establishing that embryos can be crime victims. Once that principle had been accepted, embryos could be recognized as persons under other aspects of the law.
The Tennessee Senate is expected to vote on this measure today.
Including Tennessee, 38 states have fetal homicide laws — 23 of which apply to the earliest stages of pregnancy. As a result of these laws, some women are being unfairly charged with harming their unborn children when they lose their babies during pregnancy.