Federal Judges Block Strict Abortion Laws in Tennessee, Georgia

July 14, 2020 Updated: July 14, 2020

Federal judges in Georgia and Tennessee on Monday blocked two of the country’s strictest laws on abortion.

In Georgia, U.S. District Judge Steve Jones ruled against the state in a lawsuit filed by an advocacy group and abortion providers. His ruling permanently enjoins the state from ever enforcing House Bill 481, also known as the Living Infants Fairness and Equality (LIFE) Act.

The LIFE Act banned physicians from performing an abortion once a fetus’s “heartbeat” can be detected by ultrasound, typically around the 6-week mark of a pregnancy. Blocking of the “heartbeat” law means women in Georgia can continue to get abortions during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy.

“It is in the public interest, and is this court’s duty, to ensure constitutional rights are protected. Because ‘the constitutional liberty of the woman to have some freedom to terminate her pregnancy’ is implicated here, the court finds that a permanent injunction of H.B. 481 would not disserve the public interest,” Jones wrote in the order.

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The Georgia State Capitol building in Atlanta, Ga., in a file photo. (Mary Silver/Epoch Times)

In Tennessee, U.S. District Judge William Campbell Jr. granted a temporary restraining order regarding a law that Republican Gov. Bill Lee signed hours earlier banning abortions as early as 6 weeks into pregnancy and prohibiting abortions based on race, sex, or diagnosis of Down syndrome.

In his ruling, Campbell wrote that he’s “bound by the Supreme Court holdings prohibiting undue burdens on the availability of pre-viability abortions.”

When the bill cleared the Senate in June, Lee applauded its passage, calling it “the strongest pro-life law” in the state’s history.

“One of the most important things we can do to be pro-family is to protect the rights of the most vulnerable in our state, and there is none more vulnerable than the unborn,” he said in a Twitter announcement of the bill.

The Tennessee State Capitol is pictured
The Tennessee State Capitol in Nashville, Tenn., on March 1, 2009. (Public Domain)

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Center for Reproductive Rights, and women’s health provider Planned Parenthood filed a joint lawsuit in federal court challenging the bill.

“The Tennessee General Assembly’s passage of this dangerous, flatly unconstitutional bill is unacceptable,” Hedy Weinberg, executive director of ACLU-Tennessee, said in a statement. “Politicians should not be deciding what is best for women and certainly not making reproductive health care decisions for them.”

The Susan B. Anthony List, one of the United States’ largest pro-life groups, had previously praised the Tennessee “heartbeat” bill.

“Tennessee’s landmark new law includes some of the strongest protections in the nation for unborn children and their mothers,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, the group’s president, said in a statement.

“This law recognizes the humanity of the unborn child by stopping abortion as soon as a heartbeat can be detected, protecting them from lethal discrimination in the womb, and ending late-term abortions after five months, when unborn babies can feel excruciating pain,” Dannenfelser added.

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A woman helps lay 3,000 carnations to represent the approximately 3,000 abortions that occur in the United States every day, on the 46th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington on Jan. 22, 2019. (Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images)

Many supporters of “heartbeat” abortion bills hope lawsuits over them head to the Supreme Court for a fresh legal challenge to the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that effectively made access to abortion a constitutional right.

At least eight states passed so-called heartbeat bills or other sweeping bans in 2019, including Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, and Tennessee.

All of the new bans joined the fate of earlier heartbeat abortion bans from Arkansas, North Dakota, and Iowa in being at least temporarily blocked by judges.

Mimi Nguyen Ly and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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