State Watch

Tennessee passes strict new 20-week abortion ban


Tennessee legislators have given final approval to a measure that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and create additional barriers even if the life of the mother were at stake.

The legislation, passed on a party-line vote in the Republican-controlled House and Senate this week, would require a doctor to evaluate whether a fetus is viable after 20 weeks of pregnancy. State law would presume that a fetus would be viable after 24 weeks of gestation.

A doctor could perform an abortion after 20 weeks if the woman’s life or health is at risk. But any doctor who decides a woman’s health is at risk would be required to get a second opinion from another doctor with whom they do not have a professional relationship.

{mosads}Groups that oppose abortion rights hailed the legislation as a milestone.

“Together we will help ensure that the strongest possible law saves the largest number of women, girls and unborn children from the horror of an elective abortion when the child could otherwise survive,” said Brian Harris, who heads Tennessee Right to Life.

Gov. Bill Haslam (R) has not said whether he will sign the bill. Haslam expressed reservations about earlier versions of the bill, and legislators changed some elements at his request. He said earlier this week he would consult with Attorney General Herbert Slatery to decide whether the measure would pass constitutional muster.

The bill has not been formally sent to Haslam’s office, the governor’s spokeswoman said in an email.

Abortion rights advocates say the bill places onerous burdens on women, especially if their health or lives are at stake, by requiring them to get a second opinion — a step that other states banning abortions after 20 weeks have not taken.

“The bill itself is actually one of the more extreme abortion bans we’ve seen this year. The fundamental premise of this bill and others like it is that women can’t be trusted to make their own health decisions,” said James Owens, a spokesman for NARAL Pro-Choice America.

Tennessee would be the fourth state to approve a ban on abortions after 20 weeks in the last five months, following Ohio, Kentucky and Iowa. Republicans control all levers of government in all four states.

Owens said pro-abortion rights groups will consider legal challenges if Haslam signs the bill. Some states, like Arizona, have seen 20-week abortion bans fall in the face of court challenges, though the question has not reached the U.S. Supreme Court.

Some anti-abortion rights groups have said they are trying to pass laws that will spur a court fight, in hopes that the Supreme Court will revisit its decision in Roe v. Wade to allow women to seek abortions. In Iowa, legislators are likely to consider a measure to ban all abortions next year, with an eye toward litigation.

“We’d like to see a life at conception bill, a heartbeat bill, something to challenge Roe v. Wade,” Iowa conservative activist Bob Vander Plaats told The Hill in an interview last month.

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