Tennessee Passes Bill Banning Abortion Once Fetal Heartbeat Detected

June 20, 2020 Updated: June 20, 2020

Tennessee lawmakers passed a bill that will ban abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected around six weeks of pregnancy.

The bill passed the Senate 23-5 around 12:30 a.m. on Friday on a party-line vote following last-minute budget negotiations between the House and Senate on Thursday.

The bill prohibits “performing or inducing, or attempting to perform or induce” an abortion on a pregnant woman whose unborn child has a fetal heartbeat, typically detected around six weeks. The act constitutes a class C felony, which is punishable by 3 to 15 years in jail and fines of up to $10,000.

The bill makes an exception for if a woman’s life is in danger, but does not exempt cases of rape or incest.

In addition to banning the procedure if a fetal heartbeat is detected, the bill also makes it a class C felony for those who carry out the procedure knowing that the woman is seeking the abortion due to the child’s sex or race, or due to a diagnosis or test indicating Down syndrome or the potential for Down syndrome.

The bill also bans abortions for minors in custody of the Department of Children’s Services, including removing a current option to petition a judge for permission to have an abortion.

Doctors who perform the abortion are mandated under the bill to “determine the gestational age of the unborn child and inform the pregnant woman of the gestational age” and “perform, or have performed … an obstetric ultrasound and display the images so that the pregnant woman may view them.”

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee applauded the passage of the bill and called 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 governor must sign the legislation for it to take effect.

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 on Friday 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, praised the 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.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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