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Tuesday, March 5, 2024

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Federal judge blocks sweeping anti-abortion law in Tennessee

by Kimberlee Kruesi —

NASHVILLE — Tennessee will not be allowed to enforce one of the strictest abortion bans in the country as a legal battle over the measure’s constitutionality moves through court, a federal judge ruled Friday.

U.S. District Judge William Campbell had already issued a temporary restraining order against the law just hours after Republican Gov. Bill Lee signed off on it earlier this month. Campbell doubled down on blocking the law from being implemented Friday, arguing the plaintiffs had a strong likelihood of proving sections of the anti-abortion law were illegal.

“This Court leaves debate about Roe, Casey and their progeny to the learned jurists on the Supreme Court, legal scholars, legislators and the public — a debate that remains lively and important,” Campbell wrote.

“The Tennessee General Assembly passed, and Governor Lee ultimately signed, a law that criminalizes the provision of abortions in Tennessee once a fetal heartbeat is detected or when an abortion is sought for specified reasons,” he added. “Applying binding Supreme Court precedent and the factors required for the extraordinary remedy of an injunction … the court concludes that an injunction should issue.”

According to the Tennessee law, abortions would be banned once a fetal heartbeat is detected — about six weeks into pregnancy, before many women know they’re pregnant. Similar legislation has been enacted in other states, such as Mississippi and Georgia, but has been blocked by legal challenges.

The law also includes a prohibition on abortion based on race, sex or diagnosis of Down syndrome. The court blocked that provision as well.

“Will the physician be subject to criminal sanction only where the patient explicitly states she seeks an abortion for a prohibited reason, or could the physician be arrested for providing an abortion where the patient’s file or a referring physician includes a reference to a prohibited reason?” Campbell wrote.

The bill was passed by Tennessee’s GOP-dominant Statehouse during the final hours of the annual legislative session back in June. Most of the public was asleep when lawmakers advanced the bill. Campbell wrote that the Statehouse crafted a bill without “precision.”

Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Reproductive Rights sued shortly before Lee signed the measure into law.

Lee has described the abortion ban as “arguably the most conservative, pro-life piece of legislation in the country.” When he first unveiled the proposal in January, Lee stood with dozens of Republican lawmakers inside the Capitol touting the bill as a top priority for his administration.

He has previously vowed to do “whatever it takes in court” to defend the anti-abortion law.

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