Jim Tracy Withdraws His Ultrasound Bill

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Politico has a story about Scott DesJarlais' chances in the next election. (SPOILER ALERT: No one but Tom Ingram thinks he has any, and Ingram is noncommittal.) The story discusses Jim Tracy's strategy for beating DesJarlais:

Tracy has made little secret that he plans to brand DesJarlais, who has since remarried and has three children, as morally tainted. The home page of Tracy’s website prominently displays a photo of him with his family, and he recently introduced controversial legislation that would require women to receive an ultrasound before receiving an abortion.

In Tennessee political circles, the bill is widely seen as a veiled effort by Tracy to present himself as a staunch abortion opponent while reminding voters of DesJarlais’ history of supporting abortions in his personal life.

That story went up Wednesday morning. But Wednesday afternoon, word came from the Senate Republican Caucus that the bill was being withdrawn.

State Senator Jim Tracy (R-Shelbyville) and Representative Rick Womick (R-Rockvale) announced today they will not seek passage of a bill this year to require abortion providers show or describe an ultrasound image to a woman before the procedure can be performed. The lawmakers said they will focus on passage of Senate Joint Resolution (SJR) 127, a pivotal constitutional amendment initiative which will come before voters in 2014 that would allow the legislature to put abortion laws into place within the bounds of "Roe v. Wade."

This is weird. I pay a lot of attention to this stuff and haven't heard a single person arguing that SJR 127 is going to have any trouble passing. None. So, why would Tracy and Womick need to retreat away from the ultrasound bill and refocus their energies on SJR 127? SJR 127 doesn't need their help. It also seemed to me that the ultrasound bill had a pretty high likelihood of passing. And, like the Politico story says, it's a good way for Tracy to prove he has a strong anti-abortion record. So, what's the deal?

Way back in 2009, The Tennessee Right to Life folks endorsed The Other Ty Cobb, who ran as a Democrat, against Republican Pat Marsh, and that struck me as odd. Back then I reckoned maybe the anti-abortion folks had figured out that it'll be harder to raise funds once SJR 127 is passed, since they will have "won."

And then years passed, and I thought maybe I was wrong. But now there's this Senate Republican Caucus press release that quotes not just caucus members, but also Brian Harris (president of Tennessee Right to Life), Bobbie Patray (president of Tennessee's chapter of Eagle Forum) and David Fowler (president of the Family Action Council of Tennessee).

And look at the language they use. Harris says, "The single most important pro-life objective: public approval of SJR 127 by voters in 2014." Patray says, "They clearly understand the educational challenge before us." Fowler says, "I applaud their desire that all pro-life efforts for the next year be focused on the most important pro-life issue in Tennessee history, the passage of SJR 127. I appreciate their leadership in making sure that nothing distracts from that overarching objective upon which all pro-life legislation in the future depends."

People, they're talking about a piece of legislation that absolutely will pass. There's no educational challenge. There's no powerful opposition. So, what's going on here?

I think Fowler's comment gives the clue —"upon which all pro-life legislation in the future depends." This is also obviously not true. Like I said, the ultrasound bill could pass this session no problem. It's not dependent on SJR 127.

But squeezing money out of people who are anti-abortion gets a lot harder once SJR 127 passes. After all, once there's a decisive victory at the state level, and all that can legally be done here is done, it makes sense for donors to move their money to the federal fight.

And the pro-life political groups are already in a precarious position. No one's forgotten that they can't sway general elections — they couldn't, for instance, put a Democrat in office in order to punish a Republican. And as big a deal as abortion is to Tennesseans in the abstract, it didn't matter enough to the voters in Scott DesJarlais' district to keep him from going to Washington.

So, you know, maybe this is the last mad scramble for anti-abortion money — frame SJR 127 as a fight (which it's not) and the thing upon which all other anti-abortion legislation hinges (which it's not) and go begging for the funds to fight a war you hope none of the people giving you money find out is fake. And before you're not in a position any longer to even stage fake battles.

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