The coronavirus pandemic — and the general social unrest in the country — has given enough media space for a handful of conservative states to pass their most radical legislation while the public has been distracted by other events in the news cycle
After Texas Governor Greg Abbott used the excuse of “maximum use of healthcare resources” to block access to abortion in the state during the pandemic, Tennessee lawmakers have now passed a bill backed by Governor Bill Lee that would ban abortions after the detection of a fetal heartbeat.
Tennessee’s Senate passed Senate Bill 23-5 early Friday morning, after the House passed it 68-17, CNN said.
The legislation is part of the so-called “Heartbeat Bills,” which have passed in six states, including Ohio, Kentucky, Iowa, Arkansas, Mississippi, Georgia, and North Dakota, and effectively prohibit abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected from six weeks to 24 weeks of pregnancy.
Although the Tennessee bill provides for exceptions to protect a woman’s life, it does not provide for exceptions in cases of rape or incest, CNN adds. Abortions after viability, which is about 24 weeks, already are illegal in Tennessee, except, again, in cases where the woman’s life is in danger.
It also prohibits abortion when the doctor knows the woman seeks to end the pregnancy because of the child’s race, sex, or a diagnosis indicating Down syndrome.
Similarly, as in most states that have passed such laws, the bill would punish abortion providers with up to 15 years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000.
Contradicting scientific knowledge, the law also requires providers to offer the possibility of “reversing” the abortion through a second pill, something strongly contraindicated by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
The proposal, however, has quickly been rejected in court by pro-choice organizations and activists for women’s right to decide about their own bodies.
The American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood, and several Tennessee abortion providers immediately filed lawsuits against the bill and against Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery and other state officials.
“Existing Tennessee law already outlaws abortion after viability,” the groups wrote, asking a judge to block the bill from going into effect.
Despite the legal diatribe, the bill will almost certainly become law at a critical time for Roe v. Wade, as the Supreme Court is expected to issue an opinion in the next few weeks in the most anticipated abortion rights case in decades.