Courts Reproductive Rights

Three National Organizations Challenge Tennessee Heartbeat Bill

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Planned Parenthood, and the Center for Reproductive Rights filed an emergency lawsuit Friday afternoon against Tennessee’s heartbeat bill. The lawsuit aims to block the legislation from being enacted and ultimately declared unconstitutional.

If enforced, the bill would ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected. This can occur as early as six weeks – which is before many people even know they are pregnant. The bill also prohibits abortions due to the fetus’s race, sex, or diagnosis of Down syndrome, as well as for minors in the custody of the Department of Children’s Services. Expectations are in place if a pregnant person’s life is in danger, but not in the instances of rape or incest.

Additionally, the legislation would require healthcare practitioners to provide an ultrasound and pictures/descriptions of the fetus to the pregnant person before the abortion is performed – likely increasing the cost of the procedure.

The bill passed the Tennessee State Senate at 12:30 in the morning on Friday. The vote was 23-5 along party lines. It occurred with no members of the public present, with it never having been on the legislative calendar, and with Senate leadership previously promising to only take up budgetary or COVID-related bills. State representative Gloria Johnson said on the Senate floor, “I feel like there was a bargain made on my reproductive health rights in order to get the budget passed.”

Tennessee’s governor, Bill Lee, is expected to sign the bill into law. According to the Tennessean, lawmakers specifically designed the bill to act as a potential challenge to Roe V. Wade.

Planned Parenthood has been previously successful in protecting abortion access in Tennessee. In April, the governor issued an executive order that limited non-emergency medical procedures amidst the pandemic, which included surgical abortions. A federal judge blocked the order before it went into effect.

Acting Planned Parenthood president Alexis McGill Johnson said of the bill, “It is a disgrace that in the face of a true public health crisis, Tennessee politicians wasted their time with this last-minute move to attack abortion access before closing up shop this session. We know that the goal of the politicians behind this bill is simple: a total ban on safe, legal abortion. Politicians know that this bill is blatantly unconstitutional.”

Sources: 10 News 06/22, The Hill 06/22, Tennessean 06/22, The Guardian 06/17

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