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Tennessee lawmakers pass bill requiring public schools to show controversial computer-generated video on fetus development

By Kaylin Blue, CNN

(CNN) — Tennessee could soon become the latest state to require public school students to watch a three-minute computer-generated video on fetal development created by an anti-abortion group.

The state Senate passed the legislation, commonly known as the “Baby Olivia Act,” in a 21-6 vote Thursday and the bill is now headed to Republican Gov. Bill Lee’s desk.

Under the proposed law, schools must incorporate the video, or an equivalent, into their family life curriculum. This curriculum will cover topics such as human growth, development, and sexuality through a “a high-quality, computer-generated animation or high-definition ultrasound of at least three minutes in duration that shows the development of the brain, heart, sex organs, and other vital organs in early fetal development.”

Produced by the anti-abortion group Live Action, the animation, which depicts a baby through different phases of development, has sparked criticism among experts who say the video is medically inaccurate and can have significant consequences.

Republican Rep. Gino Bulso, who sponsored the House bill, argued in March the video was medically accurate and approved by a committee of medical professionals and experts. However, Tennessee House Democrats said they had research from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists they believed debunks that statement.

“Like much anti-abortion misinformation, the ‘Baby Olivia’ video is designed to manipulate the emotions of viewers rather than to share evidence-based, scientific information about embryonic and fetal development,” the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) told CNN in a statement.

“Many of the claims made in this video are not aligned with scientific fact, but rather reflect the biased and ideologic perspectives of the extremists who created the video. ACOG is strongly opposed to the spread of misinformation about reproductive health.”

State Minority Leader Sen. Raumesh Akbari said the video doesn’t deserve a place in the curriculum.

“Students deserve unbiased, medically accurate sex education that helps them make healthy and safe decisions,” Akbari said. “This legislation achieves none of those goals.”

House Democrat Rep. Aftyn Behn argued the pro-life video is “incredibly problematic” and goes against Bulso’s views on education.

“To use your own words Representative Bulso, when you were asked about a controversial piece of legislation you carried a few weeks ago, you said a school is a place where a child goes to learn, not a place where a child goes to be indoctrinated,” Behn said.

The House passed HB2435 with a 67-23 vote in March.

Medical expert says video is medically inaccurate and disregards the mother

The narrated film claims to provide a chronological account of what takes place during the different stages of pregnancy. The video begins with the fertilization and implantation of an egg and proceeds to show the embryonic and fetal development of a fetus.

Republican Sen. Janice Bowling, who sponsored the Senate bill, said on Thursday she favored the legislation introduced by Bulso.

“Baby Olivia is a medically accurate, animated glimpse of human life in the moment of fertilization. This scientifically accurate video shows her growth as she progresses from one developmental stage to the next in preparation for her continued life outside the womb and, I repeat, this is one of the choices that teachers may choose in showing this type of information,” Bowling said.

Dr. Daniel Grossman, a professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at the University of California, San Francisco, disagrees and points out multiple inaccuracies and said the lack of accurate medical information “is concerning.”

“The claim that life begins at the moment of fertilization is not a medical fact. In medicine, a pregnancy begins when a fertilized egg implants in the wall of a uterus,” he told CNN. This would mean the timeline in the video dates the stages of pregnancy two weeks earlier, making it sound like the fetus is more developed than it actually is.

So, the stage the fetus is in at 11 weeks in the video is actually a depiction of a 13-week old fetus, Grossman says.

“I think the danger of having biased and inaccurate information like this in schools is that it is being used to form and influence public opinion that ultimately affects the legality of abortion—and potentially IVF, contraception, and other medical care,” he added.

The part of the video where the baby’s heartbeat is discussed is also not entirely accurate, Grossman says. The video claims the baby’s heartbeat can be heard at three weeks, and while rhythmic contractions of the cardiac tube can be seen on ultrasound at 5-6 weeks, according to Grossman, the heart does not fully form until 9 weeks.

The video also claims a fetus can survive at 20 weeks “with a lot of help” outside the womb, however only 10% of babies born at 22 weeks survive long enough to be discharged from the hospital, according to Grossman.

“There is very little mention of the woman in whose body the embryo is developing, including how she may feel about the pregnancy and how it may be affecting her health,” he added.

Noah Brandt, vice president of communications for Live Action, the anti-abortion group that produced the video, says the group consulted with a panel of medical doctors including experts in embryonic and fetal development for the project. The group also says each doctor endorsed this presentation.

Lila Rose, founder and president of Live Action expressed gratitude for the bill’s passage:

“I applaud the Tennessee state legislature for passing the Baby Olivia Act, a crucial step toward educating students about the amazing process of human development in the womb … I look forward to Governor Lee swiftly signing this bill into law, setting a precedent for other states to follow in prioritizing comprehensive education on human development.”

Tennessee Democratic Rep. Justin Jones said in a recent phone interview with CNN the new legislation was an attempt to merge religious beliefs with science and to confuse students with “medically inaccurate” information.

“It is shameful that this is what they are pushing in our schools when we are facing the situation where our schools are underfunded, our teachers are already being forced to ban history, to ban books about critical race theory, or about diversity, and yet they’re going to push this propaganda into our schools to present a view that is not factually accurate.”

Jones also said GOP representatives voted against an amendment that would allow parents to opt their children out of watching the video.

CNN reached out to Lee’s office about the bill and whether it would be signed into law. If signed, the law will go into effect immediately starting with the 2024-2025 school year.

CNN also reached out to Planned Parenthood for comment.

This bill comes two years after the state of Tennessee banned abortions at all stages of pregnancy, even in cases of rape and incest. The ban only makes an exception if a pregnant woman’s life and body are at serious risk.

Tennessee will join North Dakota in the adoption of the “Baby Olivia” bill. Similar legislation has also been under consideration in Iowa, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Missouri.

™ & © 2024 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Ryan Young and Dianne Gallagher contributed to this story.

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