Federal Appeals Court Agrees to Hold Hearing on Tennessee Law Banning Abortions When Baby’s Heart Starts Beating

State   |   Micaiah Bilger   |   Dec 2, 2021   |   6:48PM   |   Washington, DC

In an encouraging sign for unborn babies’ rights, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed Wednesday to reconsider its decision to block a Tennessee heartbeat law.

The pro-life law, which Gov. Bill Lee signed in 2020, bans abortions once an unborn baby’s heartbeat is detectable, about six weeks of pregnancy, and has the potential to save thousands of babies’ lives every year.

However, the abortion industry sued, and a federal judge immediately blocked the state from enforcing the law. Earlier this year, a Sixth Circuit panel agreed that the law should remain blocked.

Then, Tennessee and the pro-life American Center for Law and Justice filed a petition for rehearing en banc, requesting that all judges on the Sixth Circuit review the panel ruling that blocked the implementation of the pro-life law.

Now, the full Sixth Circuit could has agreed to reconsider its ruling, meaning Tennessee may be allowed to enforce the law and protect unborn babies from abortion, according to the Associated Press.

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The report continues:

… late Wednesday, the appeals court said it would vacate that ruling and instead schedule a rehearing before the full court.

While the state law will remain on pause because of a lower court ruling, the move marked yet another rapid turn in the ongoing battle over abortion access currently being fought inside the country’s judicial system.

It is not clear when the court will rehear the case.

Notably, one Sixth Circuit judge wrote a powerful dissent to the panel ruling earlier this year. Judge Amul R. Thaper said the U.S. Supreme Court “should return this choice to the American people — where it belongs.”

Right now, under Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the Supreme Court forces states to legalize abortion on demand up to viability. On Wednesday, the high court heard a Mississippi case that directly challenges this precedent, but, for now, it stands.

Thaper said Roe and Casey are “wrong as a matter of constitutional text, structure, and history,” and states should be allowed to pass laws to protect unborn babies from abortion.

“Under any test for evaluating the historical pedigree of an alleged right, the right to an abortion does not just miss the mark. It flunks out,” the judge wrote. “… the historical evidence is clear. The Constitution leaves decisions like this to the states. The state legislatures can do what we can’t: listen to the community, create fact-specific rules with appropriate exceptions, gather more evidence, and update their laws if things don’t work properly.”

Though the 2020 law is described as heartbeat legislation, it includes many different measures to protect unborn babies. The heartbeat portion of the law prohibits abortions once an unborn baby’s heartbeat is detectable, about six weeks of pregnancy. It also includes other levels of restriction going up from eight weeks to 24 weeks of pregnancy, which would go into effect depending on what a court may strike down.

The law also bans discriminatory abortions based on the unborn baby’s sex, race or a Down syndrome diagnosis. It allows exceptions if the mother’s life is at risk. Abortionists who violate these bans could face felony charges.

Planned Parenthood and other pro-abortion groups are suing Tennessee to block the law.

However, Ashley Coffield, president of Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi, warned that Tennessee and 24 other states would immediately ban abortions if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade in the Mississippi case.

“Already, courts are preparing to allow harsh abortion bans to take effect — including Tennessee’s currently blocked [ban], which the full 6th Circuit Court of Appeals has agreed to reconsider in anticipation of a decision overturning Roe,” Coffield said.

Tennessee leaders have said they will not give up the fight to protect unborn babies’ lives, and Gov. Lee promised to do “whatever it takes in court” to defend the law.

The Tennessee legislation could save tens of thousands of unborn baby girls and boys and protect their mothers, but the success of the heartbeat ban against a legal challenge is uncertain. About a dozen states have passed heartbeat laws, but only Texas has been allowed to enforce it.