Tennessee’s ‘heartbeat’ anti-abortion law blocked by federal judge

Federal judge blocks Tennessee’s ‘heartbeat’ anti-abortion law

A federal judge on Monday blocked a controversial abortion law from going into effect in Tennessee less than an hour after Gov. Bill Lee signed it into law.

The law would bar women from getting abortions at the first sign of a fetal heartbeat, which can be detected as early as six weeks into pregnancy, often before women are aware that they’ve gotten pregnant. It would also prohibit doctors from performing abortions if a doctor knows a woman is seeking the procedure because of a fetus’ sex, race or a diagnosis of Down syndrome, according to the Tennessean.

The newspaper reported that there are exceptions to the law in cases where a woman's life is in danger but no exceptions in cases of rape or incest.

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Lee signed the bill into law around 11 a.m. Monday, hailing the legislation as "arguably the most conservative pro-life piece of legislation in the country."

“It’s our responsibility to protect the most vulnerable in our community and certainly the most vulnerable in Tennessee includes the unborn which is why, with the signature of this bill, Tennessee is one of the most pro-life states in America,” he said.

By 11:45 a.m., a federal judge had issued a temporary restraining order blocking the law, according to the Tennessean.

The order was granted after several groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Center for Reproductive Rights, sued the government in June seeking to block the law, WZTV reported.

“It is unconscionable that — in the middle of a public health crisis and a national reckoning on systemic racism — lawmakers are focused on trying to eliminate access to abortion,” Jessica Sklarsky, senior staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights, told the Tennessean in an emailed statement. “Abortion is an essential health service, and this law clearly violates the constitutional rights of patients and disproportionately harms communities of color.”

U.S. District Judge William L. Campbell said Monday that the law appeared likely to be unconstitutional.

"Plaintiffs have demonstrated they will suffer immediate and irreparable injury, harm, loss, or damage if injunctive relief is not granted pending a preliminary injunction hearing," Campbell wrote.

"The Act will immediately impact patients seeking abortions and imposes criminal sanctions on abortion providers. The time-sensitive nature of the procedure also weighs in favor of injunctive relief pending a preliminary injunction hearing."

On Monday, a federal judge permanently struck down a similar anti-abortion “heartbeat” law in Georgia, ruling that the measure violated a woman’s constitutional right to access abortion as established by the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling. The case was widely considered one of a number of attempts to create fresh legal challenges to abortion after two new conservative justices were confirmed to the Supreme Court.

The high court, by a 5-4 ruling on June 29, struck down another of those challenges involving regulations from Louisiana.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.