Court upholds ban on Tennessee heartbeat abortion bill

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit blocked parts of a Tennessee abortion bill that would ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected or if a person seeking an abortion did so based on the race, sex, or Down syndrome diagnosis of a fetus.  

House Bill 2263 was signed into law on June 19, 2020, on the last day of the Tennessee General Assembly’s session. At the time, the legislation was one of the strictest in the country. The bill banned abortions and criminalized anyone performing pre-viability abortions beginning with the detection of a fetal heartbeat and through the gestational age of 24 weeks.  

Section 217 of the bill criminalized physicians performing abortions if they were aware the abortion was because of the race, sex, or Down Syndrome diagnosis of a fetus.  

Under the law, physicians were allowed to perform abortions if they believed the procedure was necessary to avoid a medical emergency.  

“Today is a huge win for pregnant people in Tennessee,” Center for Reproductive Rights staff attorney Rabia Muqaddam said. “These bans would dangerously prevent patients from getting care, and politicians should not get to decide what is an acceptable reason for seeking an abortion. While we are relieved that the court has reinstated a full block on these abortion bans, we must remain vigilant. With a case that could overturn Roe v. Wade before the Supreme Court, Congress must act swiftly to protect abortion access and declare abortion bans like these illegal by passing the Women’s Health Protection Act.” 

Several organizations filed suit, challenging the legislation, including the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the ACLU of Tennessee on behalf of the Memphis Center for Reproductive Health, Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi, Knoxville Center for Reproductive Health, carafem, and two individual abortion providers in Tennessee. 

Planned Parenthood leaders also applauded the decision in light of the recent abortion restrictions signed into law in Texas.  

“After Texas rendered the constitutional right to abortion meaningless and other states continued to attack access to care, the 6th Circuit’s decision to block Tennessee’s six-week abortion ban and reason ban brings some relief,” president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America Alexis McGill Johnson said. “We know that abortion bans that prevent people from accessing care not only reinforce abortion stigma, but also disproportionately harm pregnant Black, Latinx and Indigenous people. Planned Parenthood will continue fighting alongside our partners until patients everywhere have meaningful access to the care they need when they need it, and can make their own personal decisions and determine their own futures — free of interference by politicians.” 

Back in August, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals allowed a 48-hour waiting period to remain in effect for abortions, overturning a decision by the district court striking down the waiting period. As part of the measure, state-mandated biased counseling is also required to obtain an abortion in Tennessee.  

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