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Tennessee Legislators Introduce Bill Allowing Fathers to Prevent Abortion

Tennessee legislators have introduced a bill that if passed would allow biological fathers to receive a court injunction preventing the pregnant person from receiving an abortion.

SB 494 was introduced in the Tennessee state Senate last week by Republican state Sen. Mark Pody, with a corresponding bill HB 1079 introduced in the state House by state Rep. Jerry Sexton (R). The bills passed second and first consideration respectively and will go into effect on July 1 if signed into law by the Tennessee governor.

The Senate bill states that “a person may petition a court with jurisdiction over domestic relations matters to request an injunction to prohibit a woman who is pregnant with the person’s unborn child from obtaining an abortion.”

The person seeking the injunction must prove there is “reasonable probability” that the pregnant person will seek an abortion. The bill also requires the biological father to provide proof of paternity within 14 days of filing the injunction. DNA evidence of paternity is not required.

If the pregnant person violates the injunction and gets an abortion, “the court may hold the respondent in civil or criminal contempt and punish the respondent in accordance with the law.”

“This is an unconstitutional, insulting, and dangerous bill,” said Francie Hunt, executive director of Tennessee Advocates for Planned Parenthood in a statement. “Nobody should have the power to make health care decisions for someone else — not a judge, a partner, and certainly not a rapist regardless of paternity. The priorities of Tennessee’s politicians are drastically out of step with constituents struggling through the coronavirus pandemic. The legislature needs to stop trying to distract the public from their leadership failures with increasingly stigmatizing abortion restrictions.”

If enacted the bill will most likely be found unconstitutional. In the 1992 case Casey v. Planned Parenthood, the Supreme Court struck down a state requirement that a pregnant person notify their spouse before obtaining an abortion.

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