Tennessee lawmakers pass bill to require anti-abortion group video, or comparable, in public schools

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee would become the latest state to require public school students to watch a video on fetal development produced by an anti-abortion group, or something comparable, under legislation that is headed to Republican Gov. Bill Lee’s desk.

The GOP-dominated Senate passed the legislation Thursday, with the five Democrats in attendance and one Republican voting to oppose.

The Senate voted down various Democratic amendments: to let parents opt their children out of watching the video; to let school districts decide whether to show it; to show a disclaimer that it’s scientifically inaccurate political propaganda; and to let schools teach comprehensive sex education.

“This cutesy, shiny, pink video is offensively childish and it diminishes the complexity of reproductive health,” said Democratic Sen. Heidi Campbell. “It’s insulting to women and it’s insulting to the medical profession.”

The bill’s sponsor, Republican Sen. Janice Bowling, argued the video is accurate.

“It does show conception and it’s an AI-type of film, but it’s medically correct,” Bowling said. “And it shows the moment when the sperm unites with the egg, and that is the beginning of life.”

The bill mirrors similar proposals that have popped up this year in Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri, and West Virginia, have all been backed by Live Action, an anti-abortion organization. North Dakota was the first state to adopt the idea last year.

Live Action has been approaching states pushing them to use their three-minute animation in classrooms that they say helps visualize a fetus developing in the womb. The fetus in the video is referred to as Baby Olivia.

The clip depicts an egg being fertilized and implanted then progressing through embryonic and fetal developments occurring throughout a pregnancy. A voiceover also introduces viewers to Olivia as an illustration of a fully developed baby in utero appears on screen. Olivia’s mouth and eyes open and close, and her hands move.

“Though she has yet to greet the outside world, she has already completed an amazing journey,” the narrator says.

However, the video has been criticized by some educators and physicians, who argue the video is deceptive and problematic for a young audience. Furthermore, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, a professional organization with over 60,000 members, has said that the video is anti-abortion misinformation “designed to manipulate the emotions of viewers.”

Live Action says the video was made in consultation with doctors.

Under the Tennessee version, public schools would have the option to show a different video, but the legislation contains strict requirements that it must be at least three minutes long and contain “a high-quality, computer-generated animation or high-definition ultrasound” that shows “the development of the brain, heart, sex organs, and other vital organs in early fetal development.” It’s unclear how many other organizations offer something similar.

The bill says the video must be shown as part of a school’s family life curriculum.

Democrats said requiring the video goes against Republicans’ claims that they prioritize parental choice in education.

“I’ve heard many members in this body talk about school choice, parent choice as the lay of the land and how it should be,” said Democratic Sen. Charlane Oliver. “But it seems to be only convenient when it fits a certain political ideology.”

While Lee hasn’t publicly weighed in on the legislation, it’s likely to win the Republican’s signature. The governor has never vetoed a bill since taking office in 2019 and he has repeatedly stressed his opposition to abortion. Under his administration, Lee enacted a sweeping abortion ban that went into effect shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022 and approved sending more tax dollars to anti-abortion organizations often known as crisis pregnancy centers.

The Baby Olivia legislation has not made as much progress in other states as in Tennessee. West Virginia’s Senate signed off on the measure in February that specifically applied to eighth and twelfth graders, but the Legislature adjourned before it could clear the House of Delegates.

In Iowa, lawmakers are debating whether to remove specific references to the Baby Olivia video and instead require any video depicting the “humanity of the unborn child.” Meanwhile, the bill has not advanced in Kentucky and Missouri.

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