Tennessee Legislature Passes Bill to Ban Late-Term Abortions on Unborn Babies

State   |   Micaiah Bilger   |   May 4, 2017   |   12:37PM   |   Nashville, TN

A bill to ban late-term abortions in Tennessee is headed to Gov. Bill Haslam’s desk this week.

The state House passed the bill Wednesday in a 68-18 vote, after the state Senate passed it Monday with similarly strong support.

The Tennessee Infants Protection Act would protect viable, late-term unborn babies from abortion in the state. It would prohibit abortions at 24 weeks, and require abortion clinics to assess whether an unborn child is viable starting at 20 weeks. If the unborn baby is determined to be viable at that point, that abortion also would be illegal. Doctors could face felony charges for violating the law.

The Times Free Press reports more about Gov. Haslam’s statements about the bill:

Asked earlier this week if he would sign the legislation into law, Haslam, a Republican, was noncommittal with reporters saying, “We will see.”

Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery previously said in a legal opinion the legislation was “constitutionally suspect.”

But Slatery also suggested several changes to the bill, including one later adopted by the Senate, and the attorney general also noted he was prepared to defend the would-be law if a court challenge materializes.

Pointing to Slatery’s willingness to defend the law, Haslam said, “When it gets to us we will have those conversations both with the attorney general and with our own review of the bill before we make that decision.”

The sponsor, state Sen. Joey Hensley, is a medical doctor and a Republican, according to the local news. He said the bill will protect viable, late-term babies in the womb from being aborted.

“We want every child that has a chance at life to have a chance,” Hensley said Monday.

Opponents argue that the bill could punish doctors unfairly because of the 20-week viability determination requirement in the bill.

The AP reports the Tennessee chapter of the American College of OB-GYNs said viability situations are not always clear, and doctors could face felony charges for using their best medical judgment. The state attorney general also expressed similar concerns in his legal opinion about the bill.

However, Paul Linton, an attorney with Tennessee Right to Life, told the AP that legislators added an amendment to the bill that addressed those concerns.

“… there’s no possibility that a doctor could be convicted if he’s acting in good faith,” Linton said of the amended bill.

Planned Parenthood advocates in Tennessee claimed the bill is “unconstitutional,” but quite a few other states already have laws in effect that prohibit abortions after the 20- to 24-week point.

Currently, 16 states prohibit abortions after 20 weeks when strong scientific evidence indicates unborn babies can feel pain. Only a few have faced legal challenges. A number of others prohibit abortions at 24 weeks – generally accepted as the point when unborn babies are viable outside the womb. However, new research indicates more babies are surviving before the 24 week mark.

A few states still allow abortions for any reason up until birth. Late-term abortion practices are operating legally in New Mexico, Maryland, Colorado and California.