NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — One Nashville lawyer says that there’s misinformation out there when it comes to Tennessee’s abortion ban law.
Nashville Attorney Jennifer Eberle with Kinnard Law has been following Tennessee’s abortion ban law closely the past few months, and she takes issue with one word that keeps coming up: exception. She says Tennessee’s law does not have an exception for doctors.
“We don’t interpret our laws figuratively; we interpret laws literally. And this law literally states it is a felony to perform an abortion period, full stop. If you do it to save the life of a woman, you’re still committing a felony, you just have a defense to that at trial,” says Eberle.
The defense a doctor would be allowed to use at trial is also named in the bill. It’s called an affirmative defense. Under the new law, doctors who perform an abortion are committing a Class C felony. No exception. That means a prosecutor can pursue criminal charges. The affirmative defense portion simply gives the doctor an opportunity at trial to defend himself or herself. But, keep in mind, that’s after being charged with a crime.
“The misinformation here is that we have an exception; we don’t. An exception is something that decriminalizes the act. And affirmative defense says it’s a crime, but there’s an excuse for it. And I think that’s where a lot of the misunderstanding lies with the public and with our elected officials,” she says.
President of the anti-abortion group Tennessee Right to Life, Stacy Dunn says doctors have nothing to fear from this law.
“We’ve had an affirmative defense provision in a law since 2017 in our post-viability ban. And after 5 years, no doctor has been prosecuted under that affirmative defense provision. That is the protection that the doctors have,” says Dunn.
Eberle also says the emotional toll on the doctor aside, the law also places on them a large financial burden.
“I think something that a lot of people aren’t thinking about is physicians have liability insurance. Liability insurance almost never covers criminal activity. This is a crime. So the physician will not have insurance coverage for this,” says Eberle.
Eberle says, at this point, we are in a holding pattern, simply waiting for that first test case; that first doctor who is charged in Tennessee. But the anti-abortion side says good doctors have nothing to fear from this law.