Tennessee Proposes Bill That Would Let Fathers Veto Abortions

February 15, 2021 Updated: February 15, 2021

Tennessee lawmakers have proposed a bill that would allow biological fathers to prevent a woman from getting an abortion.

The bill, known as Senate Bill (SB) 494, allows a person to ask a court to grant an injunction that would stop a woman who is pregnant with the person’s child from obtaining an abortion.

The court will then have to hold a hearing with both parties to consider the petition within 14 days and decide whether an injunction is warranted. To obtain an injunction, the father must show that there is a “reasonable probability” the woman will attempt to seek an abortion and any evidence that the person is the child’s biological father.

However, the father does not need to provide DNA evidence for the injunction.

Once an injunction is issued, the judge could hold the woman “in civil or criminal contempt and punish the respondent in accordance with the law” if she is found to have violated the injunction.

SB 494, which was introduced by GOP Sen. Mark Pody, was passed on second consideration last week and has now been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. A similar bill was introduced in the Tennessee House and passed first consideration last week.

A father’s consent to an abortion has not been required by law and the U.S. Supreme Court has found such laws unconstitutional. In the 1976 case Planned Parenthood v. Danforth, the court found that a Missouri law that required written consent from a spouse during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy was unconstitutional because the state cannot delegate the authority to prevent an abortion other than a doctor or the mother of the unborn child.

In the last few years, several states have proposed bills aimed at limiting abortions such as “heartbeat bills,” which bans most abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected usually at around six weeks of pregnancy. Many of these bills have led to a series of legal challenges in courts. These states are hoping that the lawsuits could be a vehicle to challenge Roe v. Wade, which classifies the right to choose to have an abortion as “fundamental,” in the Supreme Court. Several courts across the country have already invalidated the “heartbeat bill.”

In June last year, the Supreme Court struck down a Louisiana law that required doctors who perform abortions to have hospital admitting privileges close to where the procedure takes place.

The court said the law was unconstitutional. It found that the Louisiana law was almost identical to a 2016 Texas law that had already been struck down by the same court and that the Texas law placed “a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking an abortion.”

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