Tennessee Passes Draconian Abortion Law During Coronavirus Pandemic

By Ayana Byrd Jun 22, 2020

Days before The United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS) issues its ruling on a landmark abortion case that could overturn Roe v. Wade, Tennessee has made it harder for pregnant people in the state to get the medical procedure.

On Friday (June 19), the state legislature passed a bill that bans abortion when a fetal heartbeat can be detected—generally at six weeks—and does not make allowances in the case of rape, incest or the fetus having Down’s Syndrome. Reports The Washington Post:

Amid nationwide unrest and a global pandemic that wrecked the state budget, Tennessee lawmakers advanced one of the strictest abortion bans in the country as most Tennesseans were asleep Friday and largely unaware the GOP-dominant General Assembly had taken up the controversial proposal.

In response, hours after the passage of the bill, Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit to block its implementation.

The bill goes beyond placing severe time restrictions on abortion. According to the Post:

Also tucked in Tennessee’s 38-page bill is a requirement that women seeking an abortion undergo an ultrasound and have the doctor describe and display the image to her.

Additionally, doctors must inform women that drug-induced abortions may be halted halfway. Medical groups say the claim isn’t backed up by science and there is little information about the reversal procedure’s safety.

With this legislation, Tennessee joins Mississippi and Georgia in banning abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat. Missouri bans it after eight weeks. However, in those states, legal challenges have kept the laws from going into effect.

The 2018 confirmation of Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court—and the potential shift in the court’s direction—has led to increased urgency among critics of abortion. This has led to a flurry of heartbeat bans and other restrictive measures in Republican-controlled state legislatures, as they seek to land a new case before the court in hopes of setting sharper limits. Twenty-two states are poised to ban abortion if Roe is overruled, reports The New York Times.

In June, SCOTUS is expected to rule on June Medical Services v. Gee. The case, as Colorlines previously reported, is related to a Louisiana abortion law that would severely limit access to the procedure. Act 620 says doctors who perform abortions must have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic. If the law is allowed to go into effect, reproductive rights activists say the entire state will have just one doctor who can provide abortions. About one-third of Louisiana’s abortion clinics would also close, reports Slate.

The governor of Tennessee, Bill Lee, is expected to sign the Tennessee bill.