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Tennessee Legislator Who Suggested White People May Become Slaves One Day Introduces Bill Allowing Men to Stop Abortions


Republican legislator Rep. Jerry Sexton sponsored a bill this week that would allow men a powerful ability to interfere with a woman’s right to have an abortion. State Sen. Mark Pody sponsored the related Senate bill.

The legislation, SB0494 in the Senate and HB1079 in the House, permits a man to seek an injunction that would legally prohibit a woman from terminating her pregnancy. The bill grants the right to the “biological father,” but leaves unmarried women entirely out of the process of determining that status. Instead, it requires only that the petitioner acknowledge paternity in writing.

Sexton has come under fire for many of his legislative efforts in the past, including bills that would have designated the Holy Bible, as the state book of Tennessee, ban same-sex marriage in Tennessee, and preserve Confederate statues. Sexton also introduced a potential deal during the COVID-19 pandemic that would have allowed the state to purchase  hospital gowns at inflated prices that were manufactured by Sexton’s furniture company. Sexton was a signatory to a letter dated January 5, 2021 supporting Donald Trump’s attempt to overthrow the 2020 presidential election.

Sexton can be seen below, relating attitudes about reproductive freedom to ideology that “Blacks or Jews were less than human.”

“Maybe some of us will be slaves one of these days. Laws change,” Sexton warns.

The text of the bill specifically states that for a man unmarried to a pregnant woman, there is no need for the petitioner man to prove his paternity by DNA. Rather, paternity (and, thereby, the corresponding right to request that an abortion be enjoined) can be established by signing an affidavit attesting that to the status of biological father. There is no requirement that the woman consent to or be otherwise involved in the process.

The bill provides that a hearing will be held within 14 days of a petition being filed by the individual seeking an injunction. At that hearing, if the petitioner man proves there is a “reasonable probability” that a woman will obtain an abortion, the court can issue an injunction prohibiting the woman from obtaining an abortion. If she undergoes an abortion in contravention of that order, the woman could be held in civil or criminal contempt, which has the potential to carry fine and even jail time. There are no exceptions, including none for rape or incest.

Tennessee’s other recently-adopted abortion law, known as the “fetal heartbeat ban,” was struck down in court as constituting an unconstitutional undue burden on reproductive rights.

“Always making the news and always about controlling a woman’s body,” Tennessee State Senator Brenda Gilmore (D) tweeted about the Sexton-Pody legislation.

[screengrab via Tennessee Holler]

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Elura is a columnist and trial analyst for Law & Crime. Elura is also a former civil prosecutor for NYC's Administration for Children's Services, the CEO of Lawyer Up, and the author of How To Talk To Your Lawyer and the Legalese-to-English series. Follow Elura on Twitter @elurananos