Abortion in Tennessee after the 20th week of pregnancy just became very difficult to legally justify, as a GOP-backed bill has been signed by a Republican governor. But the attorney general, also a Republican, has called the law “constitutionally suspect.”
On Friday, Governor Bill Haslam signed the “Tennessee Infants Protection Act,” a bill that prohibits physicians from performing abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy when a fetus is considered viable, able to survive outside the womb with or without medical assistance.
The bill would require physicians to determine the viability of a fetus through tests and get a second opinion from an independent physician. Any physician that performed an abortion on a viable fetus after 20 weeks would be committing a state felony unless the abortion would prevent the mother’s death or cause “irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.”
“The Tennessee Infants Protection Act prohibits purposely performing post-viability abortions, except when a physician determines in his or her good faith medical judgment that either the unborn child is not viable or that the procedure is necessary to prevent serious risk to the mother,” Haslam said, according to a statement obtained by the Tennessean.
Haslam said he would support the bill earlier this week, calling it “a 24-week” ban since the bill states that physicians should presume that a fetus is viable by the 24th week.
Republicans blocked any efforts from Democrats to include exceptions for rape and incest. The bill also blocks exceptions for any mental health problems that would result in suicide or irreversibly self harm.
Democrats weren’t the only ones taking issue with the legislation, however.
In March, Republican state Attorney General Herbert Slatery released an opinion that described it as “constitutionally suspect, particularly with respect to the proposed post-viability abortion ban and the viability testing requirement.”
Additionally, Slatery disagreed with there being no exceptions such as the mother’s mental health problems, as well as amendments that could subject a physician to criminal charges. Slatery said “such statutes impermissibly subject a physician to criminal liability even though he was acting in good faith in determining whether a medical emergency or medical necessity exists.”
However, Slatery later said that he would defend the bill in court, according to the Associated Press.
Pro-life advocates praised the bill scheduled to take effect July 1.
Bryan Harris, the president of Tennessee Right to Life, the state’s oldest and largest pro-life organization, released a statement that said the governor’s administration “has been tireless in supporting common-sense measures which affirm the dignity human life in our state and pro-life Tennesseans are clearly very grateful to the Governor.”
Women rights groups oppose the bill, arguing that the bill would only make it more difficult for women to have access to safe and legal abortions.
On Thursday, activists with Planned Parenthood dressed as characters in Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel “The Handmaid’s Tale,” went to the capital to deliver hundreds of letters from Tennesseans, demanding Haslam veto the bill.
“We demand that Governor Bill Haslam recognize that a vote in support of SB 1180/ HB 1189 is a vote that disregards the humanity of women and families,” Planned Parenthood wrote. “Unlike the characters in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, women in Tennessee will not be reduced to ‘walking wombs.’”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Tennessee also sent a letter to Haslam’s office on Friday, urging him to veto the bill that they called a “blatant attempt to undermine a woman’s constitutional right to make her own medical decisions.”
“While we may not all agree about abortion, it is important that we support a woman and allow her to make the best decision for her health and personal circumstances — without political interference,” said Hedy Weinberg, Executive Director ACLU of Tennessee.