Abortion law must take effect before judge considers injunction

The Tennessee Senate meets on June 1, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

U.S. District Judge Chip Campbell says he won’t decide about whether to impose an emergency injunction on sweeping abortion restrictions passed by the General Assembly until Gov. Bill Lee signs the legislation into law.

Despite earlier assurances that the Senate wouldn’t take up the abortion bill in its return from a 75-day coronavirus hiatus, the chamber abruptly brought the measure up for a vote after midnight on the last night of the session. It passed 23-5 in the Senate and 70-20 in House.

Neither House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) nor Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) has yet signed the engrossed bill. Once that occurs, the governor has 10 days, excluding Sundays, to sign,  veto, or allow the bill to become law without his signature. Lee, who originally proposed the measure, is expected to sign the bill quickly once it reaches his desk.

The bill seeks to enact a nearly universal abortion ban once a fetal heartbeat is detected. If successfully challenged in court, the bill seeks to automatically impose successive abortion bans eight, 10, 12, 15, 18, 20, 21, 22, 23 and 24 weeks of gestation.

Planned Parenthood, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit seeking to block the law the same day the bill gained final approval in the General Assembly.

The plaintiffs asked Judge Campbell to take up their motion for an emergency temporary restraining order without waiting for the state to file its response, which is due by Friday. Campbell said he won’t rule on the injunction until the bill has been signed into law and that he will consider the state’s response if it is filed by the time the governor puts his signature on the bill.

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