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Tennessee second state to criminalize ‘abortion trafficking’ of minors

NASHVILLE (BP) – Tennessee lawmakers have approved an “abortion trafficking” ban making it a Class A misdemeanor to transport minors out of state for abortions without parental consent, or to procure abortion pills for minors.

Parents and legal guardians retain the right to get their children abortions outside Tennessee, and other adults may do so with the written, notarized consent of the pregnant mother’s parent. The bill does not impact the travel of adult expectant mothers seeking abortions elsewhere.

Downgraded from a Class C felony in previous language, the bill awaiting Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee’s signature stipulates a mandatory 11 months and 29 days prison term, and allows parents to file civil lawsuits for the wrongful death of the aborted child.

But the law bans civils suits by fathers of the unborn child in cases of aggravated or statutory rape, rape of a child and incest, according to the legislation on the legislature’s website.

In Idaho, the only other state to pass such a bill, the measure is on hold while a lawsuit works its way through the courts. The Idaho law establishes punishment of two to five years in prison.

Dubbed “abortion trafficking” bans, such bills are aimed at protecting life amid a hodgepodge of state laws that vary by state, provoking some to evade some restrictions by traveling across state lines.

In Texas, at least four counties have passed laws criminalizing the transport of minors on roads within the county en route to access abortions in states where they are allowed.

In the first six months of 2023, about 20 percent of women receiving abortions traveled out of state to do so, the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute said in December, compared to 10 percent of women who traveled across state lines for abortions during the first half of 2020. The data doesn’t reflect how many mothers were minors.

Tennessee’s bill does not prohibit physicians or others from calling an ambulance for a minor patient in a medical emergency.

Abortion is illegal in Tennessee, with saving the mother’s life the only exception. To Tennessee’s east, North Carolina was among states with the highest abortion numbers among out-of-state expectant mothers during the first half of 2023, Guttmacher said, with an estimated 15,910 such abortions performed. An estimated 8,370 expectant mothers traveled to nearby Georgia for abortions.

Illinois saw the greatest number, 36,810, followed by New Mexico with 14,550, Kansas with 12,480, and Florida with 9,340, Guttmacher estimated.

Tennessee’s law includes protections for ambulance operators, common carriers operating in the scope of their businesses.

The state’s Senate passed the measure April 23 with amendments, following the House’s approval April 10.