Tennessee Legislature Passes Fetal Heartbeat Bill

The abortion restriction faces immediate legal challenge

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)
June 19, 2020

Tennessee lawmakers on Friday passed a "heartbeat bill" banning abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected—a regulation on abortion that has run into legal challenges in several states.

The bill makes any abortion performed after a fetal heartbeat is detected a felony. Detection of the fetal heartbeat generally occurs six weeks into a pregnancy, and the bill prohibits abortions based on a fetus's race, sex, or disability.

The bill also creates exceptions for situations where the health of the mother is in danger.

Tennessee governor Bill Lee (R.) cheered the passage of the bill, which is awaiting his signature, on Twitter.

"One of the most important things we can do to be pro-family is to protect the rights of the most vulnerable in our state, and there is none more vulnerable than the unborn," he wrote.

Judges have stopped similar bills in Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Ohio from going into effect on constitutional grounds. In Georgia, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction against a similar bill due to concerns it violated the privacy rights of women in the state.

The Tennessee bill is already facing similar legal challenges. Planned Parenthood, the nation's largest abortion provider, announced it will be joining with the ACLU to file a lawsuit to stop the law from going into effect.

The group ripped the bill in a press release, criticizing it for prohibiting abortions "if the reason for the abortion is gender, race, or potential fetal diagnosis."

The pro-life Susan B. Anthony List praised the bill.

"Tennessee's landmark new law includes some of the strongest protections in the nation for unborn children and their mothers," the organization's president Marjorie Dannenfelser said. "This law recognizes the humanity of the unborn child by stopping abortion as soon as a heartbeat can be detected, protecting them from lethal discrimination in the womb, and ending late-term abortions after five months, when unborn babies can feel excruciating pain."