abortion

Emergency lawsuit filed against Lee’s ban on abortions amid coronavirus pandemic

Reproductive rights advocates have filed an emergency lawsuit challenging Gov. Bill Lee’s executive order that included abortions among banned non-emergency health procedures to ensure medical equipment and resources were reserved for the coronavirus response.

The federal lawsuit was filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and the American Civil Liberties Union.

“This would be like any other non-essential procedure,” Lee told reporters last month when asked about the abortion ban. “It would be treated the same, and my expectation and belief and certainly my expectation is that no non-essential procedures would be performed in the state during the crisis and during this time we need all of those supplies to be used on the frontlines of protecting citizens.”

Attorney General Herbert Slatery’s office told the Associated Press at the time that he stands “ready to defend the actions of the executive branch in enforcing Executive Order 18.”

Lee has announced that his statewide measures regarding nonessential activity, including elective medical procedures, will be extended through the end of this month.

Here’s the full release from the groups challenging the abortion ban in court:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, a Tennessee order effectively banning abortion procedures in the state was challenged by the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee. The April 8 order, issued by Tennessee Governor Bill Lee in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, limits “non-emergency” health care procedures and bars people from getting a procedural abortion. Patients who are less than 11 weeks pregnant are still permitted to obtain medication abortions in the state.

Tennessee is not the first state to restrict abortion care during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the ACLU, and other allies have filed lawsuits in multiple states. In Texas, most abortions are currently prohibited, and providers have asked the Supreme Court to intervene on an emergency basis. Court decisions allowing abortion care to continue have occurred in Alabama, Ohio and Oklahoma.
Statement from Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the ACLU of Tennessee:

“While we must all do our part to protect our communities from the spread of COVID-19, the actions our state government takes must be driven by science and public health, not politics. The COVID-19 crisis cannot be used to prevent women from obtaining abortions. Abortion is time sensitive and essential, and is not an elective procedure. You cannot just press pause on a pregnancy. During this pandemic, women must still have access to a full spectrum of reproductive health care, including abortion, to protect their health.”

Statement from Nancy Northup, President & CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“We have filed this case to protect the constitutional rights of women in Tennessee who need access to essential, time-sensitive abortion care. All signs indicate that this crisis will not be over soon, and patients cannot wait until it is. Leading medical experts have been clear that COVID-19 responses should not ban abortion care.”

Statement from Ashley Coffield, President & CEO of Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi:

“My heart goes out to everyone who is facing unexpected healthcare and economic challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including those seeking abortion. Abortion care cannot wait. Unlike some medical procedures, delays or additional barriers to care can make it impossible for patients to access safe, legal abortion. This will undoubtedly disproportionately impact people who are already vulnerable—black people and other communities of color, young people, the LGBTQ community, and those with low-incomes—just as we’re seeing it unfold now with COVID-19 infections, due to systemic disparities they face every day. These folks are making difficult decisions about how to pay their bills and care for their families during a pandemic—they should not be forced to continue a pregnancy against their will, too.”

Statement from Rebecca Terrell, Executive Director of CHOICES Memphis Center for Reproductive Health:

“It’s common sense that abortion is time sensitive. Our patients cannot wait until this pandemic is over. They are panicking and many have no idea when or if they’ll be able to have an abortion. Patients are now being forced to travel out of state, which will only harm efforts to contain the spread of the virus. There is no sense in denying them abortion care here in their own communities.”

Statement from Corinne Rovetti APRN-BC, co-director of the Knoxville Center for Reproductive Health:

“While we healthcare providers take COVID-19 concerns seriously, doing everything known to reduce the spread of the virus, we are also committed to ensuring that pregnant individuals during a worldwide pandemic can still access essential, time-sensitive and safe abortion care. Under normal circumstances, it is disturbing to find oneself unexpectedly pregnant when one is not financially, emotionally or otherwise ready to parent. These concerns become intensely magnified during the current pandemic crisis when people are already dealing with social and economic severity. Delaying access to care is not an option. Pregnant people need to be able to rely on care by compassionate and competent medical providers immediately.”

The lawsuit filed today argues that Tennessee’s order effectively bans abortion in the state for many women, violating Roe v. Wade and nearly 50 years of Supreme Court precedent protecting a woman’s right to liberty and autonomy under the Fourteenth Amendment. The lawsuit also argues that forcing women to travel out of state for abortion care, or to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term and give birth, will increase the risk of spreading COVID-19 and undermine the state’s asserted goal of preserving medical resources and limiting person-to-person encounters.

Leading medical organizations like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American Medical Association (AMA) have opposed these attempts to restrict abortion during the pandemic. Both groups filed an amicus brief in the case challenging Texas’s COVID-19 abortion ban, stating: “Indeed, the Governor’s order is likely to increase, rather than decrease, burdens on hospitals and use of PPE. At the same time, it will severely impair essential health care for women, and it will place doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals in an untenable position by criminalizing necessary medical care.”

Tennessee also bans the use of telehealth for medication abortion — a tool that could greatly expand access and reduce in-person contact. Other abortion restrictions in Tennessee include: a mandatory 48-hour waiting period (which includes a requirement that patients make an additional, medically unnecessary trip to the clinic to receive state-mandated information); limits on when state and public insurance can cover abortion services; and a requirement that minors obtain parental consent.

This lawsuit was filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the ACLU, the ACLU of Tennessee and pro-bono counsel Kramer Levin. Plaintiffs in the case are CHOICES Memphis Center for Reproductive Health, Knoxville Center for Reproductive Health, Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi, Adams & Boyle P.C, and Dr. Kimberly Looney.

The full complaint is available here: https://www.aclu-tn.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/230-01-Supplemental-Complaint.pdf

Lee to introduce sweeping bill to restrict abortions in Tennessee

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at a press conference about his plan to introduce sweeping legislation to restrict access to abortions in Tennessee. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee is proposing a sweeping bill aimed at restricting access to abortions in Tennessee. The bill would ban most abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected and would require women to undergo an ultrasound before seeking to terminate a pregnancy.

The bill includes a “ladder” approach of severerability clauses to that would keep provisions of the law in place if certain components are thrown out in court. For example, if the heartbeat provision doesn’t pass muster, the state could enact a ban at eight weeks, ten weeks or 12 weeks, depending what stands up in court.

Here’s the release from the governor’s office:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Gov. Bill Lee announced that he will submit comprehensive pro-life legislation to the Tennessee General Assembly this year, including the prohibition of an abortion where a fetal heartbeat exists. This legislation would make Tennessee one of the most pro-life states in the country.

“I believe that every human life is precious, and we have a responsibility to protect it,” said Gov. Bill Lee. “Today, Tennessee is taking a monumental step in celebrating, cherishing, and defending life at every stage. I’m grateful to be joined by so many leaders in our state who are boldly standing up for our most vulnerable.”

This legislation would build upon successes in other states while incorporating innovative approaches to enhance existing law, including provisions such as:

  • Prohibiting an abortion where a fetal heartbeat exists;
  • Requiring a mother to undergo an ultrasound prior to an abortion;
  • Prohibiting an abortion where the physician is aware that the decision to seek an abortion is motivated by the race, sex, or health or disability diagnosis of the unborn child. 

To protect against legal challenges, the new law would also include a creative “ladder” provision, modeled after Missouri law, of sequential abortion prohibitions at two-week gestational age intervals, along with severability clauses for each step of the ladder.

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Pody wants to recall ‘Heartbeat Bill’ to Senate floor

State Sen. Mark Pody wants the Senate to overrule a decision by its Judiciary Committee to send an anti-abortion bill to be studied after the session has adjourned for the year. The Lebanon Republican wants the full chamber to vote on the measure seeking to ban most abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected.

Pody has filed paperwork with the Senate clerk to hold a recall vote as soon as the next floor session on Wednesday. It would take 17 votes for the measure to get a floor vote as early as next week.

UPDATE: Pody didn’t make the motion during Wednesday’s floor session, but could do so at any time.

The House passed the so-called “Heartbeat Bill” earlier this session. But the Senate agreed with Tennessee Right to Life’s assessment that the measure was likely to lose in a court challenge and that a better approach would be to set a ban of most abortions in Tennessee that would “trigger” in the event the U.S. Supreme Court overturns all or part of Roe v. Wade.

A House subcommittee killed the trigger bill, while the heartbeat bill languished in the Senate. The impasse created the very real possibility that both bills might be defeated for the year. But the House reconsidered when Rep. Ron Gant (R-Rossville) last week made the motion to revive the trigger measure by pulling it directly to the full Health Committee. That recall required a majority of all eligible voting members in the committee (including the House speaker). In the case of the Health Health panel, the minimum threshold was 11 votes. The recall received 12, so it will be on this week’s calendar.

Pody’s version of the heartbeat bill was sent to summer study on a 5-3 vote, with Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) voicing strong support for the move.

Bill to ‘trigger’ abortion ban revived in House

A bill to “trigger” a ban on abortions in Tennessee in the event that the U.S. Supreme Court overturns its Roe v. Wade decision has been revived in the House.

A subcommittee had earlier voted down the bill sponsored by Rep. Susan Lynn (R-Mt. Juliet) amid an inter-chamber squabble over which anti-abortion legislation to pursue. The House preferred a bill to ban abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, while the Senate wanted to go with the triggering legislation supported by Tennessee Right to Life.

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday advanced the triggering legislation while sending the heartbeat bill to a summer study committee. The House Health Committee on Wednesday voted to overturn the subcommittee vote on the trigger bill and pull it directly to the full committee. The motion was made by Rep. Ron Gant (R-Rossville), the assistant House majority leader.

The House committee vote was 12-4, one more than the minimum necessary to recall a bill to full committee.

‘Heartbeat bill’ sent to summer study

Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge), center, attends an economic development announcement in Nashville. At left is Gov. Bill Lee and on the right is House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin). (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal).

The Senate Judiciary Committee has decided to punt on a bill seeking to ban abortions in Tennessee once a fetal heartbeat is detected. The House passed the measure in a floor vote, but the Senate decided not to proceed over concerns about a successful legal challenge.

Here’s what Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) had to say after the committee action on Wednesday:

I fully support the deliberative approach the Judiciary Committee is taking on the Heartbeat Bill. As someone who believes life begins at conception, I support the bill philosophically. But constitutionally, as Tennessee Right to Life points out, the bill is flawed in its current form. Amendment One put the abortion industry on the ropes in Tennessee. We have done all we can to defund Planned Parenthood. We have put in place reasonable restrictions to help prevent abortion. Passing a constitutionally suspect bill now would give the courts an opportunity to erase the progress we have made. And a losing court fight would likely result in awarding taxpayer money to Planned Parenthood. Protection of the unborn is too important to risk taking a step backward. I appreciate the sponsor bringing this legislation. It deserves the best possible chance for success. But that chance can only be achieved by careful study.

Supreme Court declines to take up appeal of abortion amendment

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal of a ruling that upheld the outcome of 2014 vote on a constitutional amendment to give state lawmakers more power to restrict abortion rights in Tennessee, The Tennessean reports.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in January upheld the state’s tabulating method. The Tennessee Constitution declares amendments require not just a simple majority, but a “majority of all the citizens of the state voting for governor.”

Plaintiffs argued that only ballots cast by those who had voted in both the gubernatorial election and amendment referendum should be counted (rather than the state’s longtime standard of using the equivalent number of votes).

 

Bob Corlew endorsed by TN Right to Life in 6th Congressional District GOP primary

Press release from Bob Corlew campaign

Mount Juliet, TN – Today, the Tennessee Right to Life PAC announced its endorsement of Bob Corlew, the conservative Republican for Tennessee’s 6th Congressional District.

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TN Right to Life endorses Black for governor

Press release from Diane Black campaign

Nashville, Tenn. — Today, Tennessee Right to Life announced its endorsement of Diane Black for Governor. Tennessee Right to Life’s endorsement is the most recent on a growing list of pro-life organizations backing Diane Black including Susan B. Anthony List and National Right to Life.

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TennCare moves to implement new TN ‘defund Planned Parenthood’ law

In compliance with a law approved earlier this year by the state legislature, TennCare officials last week applied to the federal government for a waiver that could block clinics that provide abortions from being paid for other health care services, reports the Johnson City Press. An ETSU professor says there may be unintended consequences including more abortions; a legislator disagrees.

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Legislature sends governor bill backing ‘monument to the unborn”

In the last hours of the legislative session, a bill favoring erection of a “monument to unborn children” on the state capitol grounds was sent to the governor after a House-Senate dispute over wording of the measure was resolved.

Apparently, the bill is to be viewed as making a request for the monument to the State Capitol Commission; not the mandate that was included in the original version. And Gov. Bill Haslam says he and his staff will be reviewing the bill before he decides whether to sign it.

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