On June 19, 2020, legislators passed a bill that would effectively ban all abortions in the state of Tennessee by criminalizing abortions after six weeks, long before most people even know they are pregnant and before the mark of viability that currently dictates Tennessee abortion law. The legislation is comprised of “cascading bans” that prohibit the provision of abortion at cascading gestational ages up through 24 weeks from the last missed period, as well as “reason bans” which ban abortions sought for the reasons of sex, race, and/or developmental diagnosis of the fetus.
The same day that the bill passed, ACLU-TN and our partners filed a lawsuit seeking a temporary restraining order and/or a preliminary injunction to block any efforts to enforce the bill while the lawsuit is pending.
These bans would irreparably harm low-income patients and communities of color. The legislation provides no exceptions for rape, incest, or any fetal conditions. These types of reasons bans insinuate that pregnant people cannot be trusted to make their own medical decisions, and do nothing to address racism, sexism, ableism, or the serious health disparities faced by marginalized communities.
On July 13, 2020, Governor Lee signed the bill into law and a federal district court immediately issued a temporary restraining order blocking enforcement of the new law.
On July 24, 2020, the federal district court granted the plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction, blocking the series of gestational age bans at nearly every stage of pregnancy because it presented an undue burden on the constitutional right to an abortion. The Court also enjoined the reasons ban on the grounds that the law was vague and, therefore, failed to give a doctor constitutionally sufficient notice of what conduct could be considered a crime.
The state appealed the preliminary injunction to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. The state also requested a stay of the preliminary injunction from the Sixth Circuit solely on the reason bans. On November 20, 2020, the Sixth Circuit granted the stay of the preliminary injunction, putting the reason bans into effect.
We and our partners requested that the trial court rule on whether the reason bans present an undue burden and issue a new preliminary injunction prohibiting their enforcement. The request was denied.
The Sixth Court of Appeals heard oral arguments on April 20, 2021.
On September 10, 2021, the court issued an opinion affirming the trial court’s grant of the preliminary injunction for both the six-week and the reasons bans. The state filed a petition for rehearing of the appeal en banc, which was granted, though a date for the hearing has not yet been set.
Memphis Center for Reproductive Health, Knoxville Center for Reproductive Health, Femhealth USA, Inc. d/b/a carafem, Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississppi, Bristol Regional Women's Center, Dr. Kimberly Looney, Dr. Nikki Zite
Herbert H. Slatery III, Lisa Piercey, M.D., W. Reeves Johnson, Jr., Glenn R. Funk, Amy Weirich, Barry P. Staubus, Charme P. Allen, Tom P. Thompson, Rene Saunders, M.D.
ACLU-TN: Thomas H. Castelli
ACLU: Brigette Amiri, Andrew Beck
Center for Reproductive Rights: Jessica Sklarsky, Rabia Muqqadam, Jen Samantha D. Rasay
Planned Parenthood Federation of America: Susan Lambaise