NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A federal court on Tuesday said Tennessee could move forward with its ban on abortion as early as six weeks into pregnancy to take effect, citing the Supreme Court’s decision overturning the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion rights case.
The decision from the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday vacated a lower court’s injunction that blocked the ban from going into effect. GOP supermajorities in the Legislature passed the law in 2020 with Republican Gov. Bill Lee’s backing, and it was almost immediately blocked in federal court.
The Tuesday decision comes before Tennessee’s other abortion ban, the so-called trigger ban, is expected to restrict abortion almost entirely by mid-August, according to a newly detailed legal interpretation by the state attorney general Tuesday. Both measures would make performing an abortion a felony and subject doctors to up to 15 years in prison.
Just hours after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on Friday, Tennessee filed an emergency motion to quickly drop the injunction, which resulted in the federal court’s Tuesday order.
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The Tennessee Attorney General’s office argued the state “has a valid interest in protecting the lives of unborn Tennesseans,” when it asked for a rapid ruling.
Experts have noted that at six weeks, most women don’t know they’re pregnant.
Ashley Coffield, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi, said in response to the ruling, “abortion bans rob people of their ability to make the decisions that are best for themselves, their lives, and their futures.”
“It is unconscionable that Tennesseans will lose access to abortion in their communities because of this decision,” Coffield said in a statement. “Planned Parenthood remains committed to helping people in Tennessee and Mississippi access abortions outside our state, and our doors are open for non-judgmental information, resources, and financial and logistical support.”
The ruling, and the implementation of Tennessee’s trigger law, appears poised to muddy an already complicated legal and health care landscape in the wake of Roe’s fall.
The state is now expected to enforce two different abortion laws in less than one month.
The six-week ban will be in place for just a few weeks before a near-total abortion ban, signed into law in 2019, is expected to go into effect.
The trigger law — set to go into place 30 days after the end of Roe — will ban all abortions statewide, with essentially the same limited exceptions as the six-week ban.
The trigger law includes almost no exceptions and places an unusual legal burden on doctors who perform an abortion to save the life of their patient.
Doctors can face felony charges under both laws.
Republican Attorney General Herbert Slatery on Friday appeared unconcerned that Tennessee’s pursuit of two separate abortion bans could prove confusing to Tennesseans and their medical providers in the coming weeks.
“There may be a little bit of confusion in the interim, but we think it will be pretty clear after that,” Slatery said.
Though abortion care was technically legal through the weekend in Tennessee, some abortion providers began slowing appointments or halted procedures after the Supreme Court ruling on Friday. A Knoxville clinic suspended all future appointments. A Memphis clinic moved up some appointments, NBC Newsreported, seeing some patients over the weekend.
The Center for Reproductive Rights, which represented some of the plaintiffs in the 6-week ban case, said in a statement Tuesday “we will do everything we can to maintain as much abortion access in Tennessee as possible—for as long as possible.”
The center on Monday filed lawsuits challenging trigger bans in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, challenging the abortion laws for unconstitutional vagueness. In Louisiana, a court blocked enforcement of state’s trigger law on Tuesday.
Contributing: Associated Press
Follow reporter Melissa Brown on Twitter @itsmelissabrown.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism