Lawmakers consider exemptions to Tennessee trigger law

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee attorney general’s office said Monday it’s still unclear when the state’s anti-abortion trigger ban will go into effect, but some state lawmakers are sounding the alarm over the fact that the ban has no exceptions for victims of rape or incest.

Tennessee has restricted abortion from the sixth week of pregnancy — when most women don’t know they’re pregnant — since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the landmark case of Roe v. Wade on abortion rights in June.

However, the state also has another abortion ban aimed at restricting abortion almost entirely. But that law can’t be enacted until the Supreme Court issues a ruling on the Roe case, which is expected soon. This will start the clock on Tennessee’s trigger law and allow it to be implemented within 30 days. Idaho and Texas have similar timelines, while a handful of other states’ trigger laws have been delayed due to legal challenges.

Republican Attorney General Herbert Slatery’s office initially said the state could begin enforcing the trigger law in mid-August, but nearly a month after making that estimate, a spokesperson said it was “not sure” if this time limit was still in place.

Meanwhile, Democratic lawmakers say they plan to introduce several bills in the next legislative session to expand the list of exemptions under the trigger law, as well as add privacy protections. patient-doctor for telehealth care.

“Pregnancy is something that should never be forced on a family,” Democratic Senator Heidi Campbell said at a press conference earlier this year.

Currently, Tennessee’s trigger law only makes an exception when an abortion is necessary to prevent the woman’s death or “a serious risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.” It specifies in particular that the mental health of a woman does not give right to an exemption, any more than rape or incest.

The exemptions are essentially the same under the state ban on termination of abortion once fetal heart activity is detected. Both would make performing an abortion a crime and subject doctors to up to 15 years in prison if found guilty.

This has alarmed some members of the medical community, who argue that the state’s only exception to save a woman’s life does not provide enough definitions for doctors to determine how much of a patient’s life must be threatened before an abortion is not allowed.

Republican Sen. Rusty Crowe, chairman of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, told a legislative panel last week that he believes the law should be changed to avoid confusion in the medical community.

“I will say that as president of health, I get communications from totally different groups … who think we should probably refine the trigger bill a little bit to make sure we don’t bring in our troubled docs when they’re trying to follow the law, said Crowe, who was a co-sponsor of the legislation when she licensed the Statehouse in 2019.

It’s unclear how those efforts will be met in the GOP-dominated General Assembly.

On Monday, a spokesman for Senate Speaker Randy McNally – the top Republican in the chamber – said the Republican “currently sees no problem with the trigger law going into effect as it has been.” adopted three years ago.

And last week, Republican Gov. Bill Lee declined to answer reporters’ questions about whether he supported changing the trigger law, specifically avoiding whether he supported exempting children who were raped then got pregnant.

In 2019, Democratic lawmakers tried to change Tennessee’s trigger law to allow an exception for child rape, but Republican supermajorities in both houses ultimately backed up that suggestion. Lee then signed the bill unconcerned about the law’s lack of exemptions.

Yet this issue resurfaced again after the news of a 10-year-old girl who traveled from Ohio to Indiana for an abortion quickly became a flashpoint in the national debate. on access to the procedure.

“Our focus right now is the implementation of the current law. And there has been no discussion about revisions to this law,” Lee said.