NASHVILLE (BP) — Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed a bill May 12 that requires abortionists to evaluate unborn babies for their ability to live outside the womb after 20 weeks’ gestation.
The new law bans abortions on unborn babies shown to be viable and requires medical opinions from two abortionists. Violators could be slapped with possible felony charges, sent to prison for up to three years, and have their medical licenses revoked. The law makes exceptions for cases in which carrying a baby to term endangers the mother’s life or vital organs.
Last month, Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery called the bill “constitutionally infirm,” but more recently said he would defend it, Haslam said.
Tennessee’s new law follows the example of Ohio’s 2011 ban on abortions after 20 weeks unless a doctor proves the baby isn’t viable.
Since the 1973 Supreme Court Roe v. Wade decision, states have been allowed to ban abortion after viability, which the court considered to be as early as 24 weeks’ gestation. But Tennessee Right to Life’s policy director Will Brewer said recent advances in medical technology have pushed viability back to 23 weeks or earlier.
“So because of this increase of technology and awareness of when babies can become viable, we wanted to clarify our law in Tennessee to meet those technological increases,” he said.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) delivered a letter to Haslam on Friday, calling the bill unconstitutional and urging him to veto it. After he signed it into law, ACLU of Tennessee Executive Director Hedy Weinberg expressed disappointment in a statement: “While we may not all agree about the right to abortion, it is important that we support a woman and allow her to make the best decision for her health and personal circumstances — without political interference.”
But pro-lifers rejoiced.
“We’re thrilled with [Haslam’s] support, we’re thrilled with the overwhelming vote by the legislature in Tennessee, and we really feel like the legislature this year was extremely successful in answering the desires and the needs of the people of Tennessee, and we hope that other states will follow suit,” Brewer said.
While it is not yet clear whether the law will face legal challenges, pro-life leaders are optimistic it will stand up to judicial scrutiny.
Deanna Wallace with Americans United for Life referenced the 1989 Supreme Court ruling in favor of a Missouri law that required viability testing after 20 weeks’ gestation.
“Requirements requiring viability testing at 20 weeks are not new, but it is certainly feasible that Tennessee’s passage of the requirement could bring renewed attention to the concept,” she said.