Tennessee would criminalize helping minors get abortions under bill heading to governor

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee is poised to become the second state in the nation to make it illegal for adults to help minors get an abortion without parental consent, a proposal that is likely to face immediate legal challenges should Gov. Bill Lee sign it into law.

Tennessee’s GOP-dominant Statehouse approved the bill Wednesday, clearing the way for the measure to head to the Republican governor’s desk. While Lee hasn’t public commented on the proposal, he has repeatedly defended enacting the state’s sweeping abortion ban and stressed his opposition to the procedure.

Yet, even if Lee signs the measure into law, reproductive rights advocates are expected to move quickly to ask a court to block the statute from being enforced. Last year, Idaho became the first state to enact the so-called “ abortion trafficking ” law, but a federal judge has since temporarily blocked the law after reproductive rights groups sued to challenge it.

“This bill is a direct attack on me, on my family, on my friends, on my network that support Tennesseans who are pregnant and vulnerable minors that need access to care to go across state lines and receive the necessary care,” said Democratic Rep. Aftyn Behn while debating the bill Tuesday evening.

According to the legislation, Tennessee would make it illegal for an adult who “intentionally recruits, harbors, or transports” a pregnant minor within the state to get an abortion without consent from the minor’s parents or guardians. Yet supporters changed the proposal at the last-minute to exempt ambulance drivers, emergency medical services personnel and other common transportation services.

Those convicted of breaking the law would be charged with a Class A misdemeanor, which requires a nearly one year imprisonment sentence.

Republican Rep. Jason Zachary, the bill’s House sponsor, specifically referenced Behn’s previous public promise to help any young person travel out of state if they needed an abortion “even if it lands me in jail.”

“That’s what recruitment looks like,” Zachary said as Behn pointed at herself while he read her statement.

Meanwhile, Zachary also argued that the bill was necessary by pointing to a lawsuit filed earlier this year by Missouri’s attorney general.

Republican Attorney General Andrew Bailey has accused Planned Parenthood of illegally taking minors from Missouri into Kansas to obtain abortions without parental consent. The lawsuit, based on a video from a conservative group that has promoted false claims on other issues, is asking a state district court to stop Planned Parenthood from engaging in the conduct it alleges.

“This piece of legislation protects parental rights,” Zachary said. “We are not relitigating abortion. That issue has already been settled in Tennessee fortunately.”

However, critics have countered that the bill does not contain exemptions for minors who may have been raped by their parents or guardians. Instead, the legislation states that the biological father of the pregnant minor may not pursue a civil action if the pregnancy was caused by rape.

Among the top critics of the measure is California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat who launched an advertising campaign criticizing the Republican-backed bill by showing a young frightened woman handcuffed to a hospital bed and crying for help with a sexual assault evidence collection kit visible in the frame.

Tennessee bans abortions at all stages of pregnancy but there are exemptions in cases of molar pregnancies, ectopic pregnancies, and to remove a miscarriage or to save the life of the mother. Notably, doctors must use their “reasonable medical” judgment — a term that some say is too vague and can be challenged by fellow medical officials — in deciding whether providing the procedure can save the life of the pregnant patient or prevent major injury.

A group of women is currently suing to clarify the state’s abortion ban. A court decision is expected soon on whether the lawsuit can continue or if the law can be placed on hold as the legal battle continues.

Ever since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to abortion in 2022, anti-abortion advocates have been pushing states to find a way to block pregnant people from crossing state lines to obtain the procedure.

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top