United StatesTennessee

Lee signs Tennessee heartbeat abortion bill, judge halts roll out

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee on Monday, July 13, 2020, signs into law a bill that prohibits abortions at six weeks, or once a fetal heartbeat can be detected. The law already is facing legal challenges.

(The Center Square) – Gov. Bill Lee signed into law Monday a bill banning abortions in Tennessee once a fetal heartbeat can be detected. Minutes later, a federal judge blocked it.

Abortions after the age of viability already were banned in Tennessee. The new law bans termination of a pregnancy at six weeks, or as soon as a fetal heartbeat can be detected. Similar laws in Mississippi, Georgia and Ohio have faced legal challenges.

“It is our responsibility to protect the most vulnerable in our community, and certainly the most vulnerable in Tennessee includes the unborn,” Lee said, describing the new law as “arguably the most conservative, pro-life piece of legislation in the country.”

Passed during the final hours of the legislative session last month, the new law requires doctors performing abortions to inform the mother of the fetus’ gestational age, allow the mother to hear the fetal heartbeat, conduct an ultrasound and display images to the mother.

The law includes an exception if the mother’s life is in danger, but does not include exceptions for rape or incest. It prohibits abortions if sought because of the fetus’ race, sex or disability. The bill also includes contingencies for legal challenges, automatically instituting additional abortion bans at 10 weeks, then 12, 15, 18, 20, 21, 22, 23, and 24 weeks, if the six weeks ban is struck down.

“With the signature of this bill, Tennessee is one of the most pro-life states in America,” Lee said.

Shortly after the bill passed the General Assembly, the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood, the Center for Reproductive Rights and several other plaintiffs filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court, challenging the bill’s constitutionality.

Less than an hour after Lee signed it the bill into law Monday, a U.S. District Court judge issued a temporary restraining order, halting enforcement of the law until courts can handle the legal challenge.

“Today’s important decision protects Tennesseans’ ability to access the medical care they need, including abortion,” Hedy Weinberg, executive director of ACLU of Tennessee, said in a statement. “It’s past time for the politicians in our state get the message that they cannot insert themselves in someone else’s personal, private decision to end their pregnancy. We will continue to stand with our partners and fight back against politicians’ attacks on constitutionally-protected abortion care.”

Members of the Senate Democratic Caucus issued a statement opposing the law, and describing it as “election year pandering.”

“Women should be able to choose when they are ready to start a family without any interference from the governor and radical politicians in the state legislature,” the statement reads. “Instead, Gov. Bill Lee has signed a dangerous law that places his office between a woman, her doctor and her family. This is election year pandering at its worst.”

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