On June 19, 2020, the Tennessee Senate passed SB2196, a bill which bans abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected. The bill will make it a Class C felony to perform, induce, or attempt to perform or induce an abortion on a mother whose child has a fetal heartbeat. SB2196 also makes it a felony to perform, induce, or attempt to perform or induce an abortion from six weeks to 24 weeks gestational age. Update: as of July 22, 2020, the bill was enrolled as law under Pub. Ch. 764 and on the same day, was blocked by a federal judge. The case, Memphis Center for Reproductive Health, et al vs Herbert H. Slatery,III, et al, was appealed to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. As of April 29, 2021, the appeals case is still ongoing. In the meantime, the bill is blocked from taking effect.
The bill bans abortions even before heartbeat detection due to immutable characteristics such as the child’s sex, race, or if a prenatal test, screening, or diagnosis shows the baby has or has the potential to have Down syndrome. There are no exceptions for rape or incest; however, there is an exception if the mother’s life is in danger, specifically, to prevent her death or a serious risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.
The bill makes other common sense requirements which make sure the mother is properly informed of the life she is carrying. The physician must determine and inform the mother of the gestational age of the baby, perform an ultrasound and allow the mother to view the images, as well as allow the mother to hear her baby’s heartbeat.
The bill further requires healthcare facilities performing abortions post signage in waiting rooms and patient rooms noting the potential ineffectiveness of a chemical abortion and informing a woman that there is a possibility of reversing a chemical abortion. The healthcare facility must provide a woman with information about chemical abortions at least 48 hours before providing the two drugs involved.
This bill drastically changes current Tennessee law, which allows a mother to obtain an abortion up to the point of viability pursuant to the medical judgment of her attending physician and with her consent. Viability is determined on a case-by-case basis by a licensed physician. However, there is a rebuttable presumption that viability begins at 24 weeks gestational age. Tennessee law also currently allows a mother to receive an abortion in a hospital to preserve her life or health in a medical emergency throughout the remainder of her pregnancy.
The American Civil Liberties Union, Center for Reproductive Rights, and Planned Parenthood Federation of America filed a complaint challenging the bill on Friday. Nevertheless, those in support of the bill will welcome a challenge to the ban, hoping that it will reach the United States Supreme Court and eventually overturn Roe v. Wade.
Tennessee becomes the seventh state to pass a “heartbeat bill” since early 2019, following Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio, Missouri, and most recently, Louisiana. Within the past year, even more states passed bans which would limit abortions for reasons such as the baby’s gestational age, the mother’s reason for obtaining an abortion, or the method of abortion.
The tide is shifting on the public’s view of abortion. A 2019 Gallup poll illustrates an increase in the percentage of people who consider themselves to be pro-life and an increase in the percentage of people who want restrictions on abortions. The same poll further reports a decline in the percentage of people who believe that abortion should be legal in all circumstances and the percentage of people who consider themselves “pro-choice.”
Despite the challenges, this wave of heartbeat bills, as well as other abortion restrictions, gives hope to those who fight to protect innocent life that someday Roe will be overturned.
As for Tennessee, both Tennessee Governor Bill Lee and Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally support the bill. According to the Tennessean, McNally believes this legislation will hold up in court. After all, what is so controversial about protecting a beating heart?
Meghan is a stay-at-home mom and an attorney. She believes all life is precious and children are the greatest joy. She is married with three beautiful daughters.