Since the U.S. Supreme Court effectively overturned Roe v. Wade on June 24, municipal authorities in Tennessee wondered how to respond and enforce new abortion laws.
Some were quick to push back against the decision with opposing legislation while others confirmed they would uphold Tennessee’s “trigger ban” law, which goes into effect in mid-August. In two of the state’s four largest cities, elected officials and county and city legislatures remained silent.
Nashville: End-to-End Reproductive Rights Advocates
On the day the Supreme Court decided to give abortion rulings to individual states, several Democratic elected officials and candidates makes statements opposing the decision and began efforts to fight the near total ban on abortion in Tennessee.
Metro City Councilwoman Delishia Porterfield announced she would introduce legislation urging the Metro Nashville Police Department to make abortion ban enforcement a low priority and monitor harassment against reproductive health facilities. The bill also called for restricting the use of municipal funds to investigate abortion cases and preventing housing discrimination based on reproductive health decisions.
Tuesday, Metro Council adopted the resolution with one abstention.
Likewise, Nashville Mayor John Cooper announced an initiative to expand health coverage for more than 15,000 City of Nashville employees to include reimbursement for medical procedures not available in Tennessee. Benefits should include transportation, accommodation and related costs.
“While our options to protect the right to choose in Nashville are limited by applicable law, we must do everything we can to continue to provide access to safe and affordable health care and care for those who need it. . I am proud to advocate for all Metro employees to enjoy this essential benefit,” Cooper said in a press release.
Cooper’s announcement received support from leaders of several reproductive rights groups, including Francie Hunt, executive director of Tennessee Advocates for Planned Parenthood, and Jennifer Pepper, president and CEO of CHOICES.
“I hope today’s announcement inspires other local leaders across the state to follow suit and fight back against the outrageous injustice imposed on millions of women in across Tennessee,” Hunt said.
Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk also announced that he would not seek to incarcerate any doctor or patient involved in abortions.
“The Legislature passed a very restrictive abortion ban in the last session that was clearly unconstitutional. Part of that law was that doctors had to tell their patients that they could decide not to have certain abortions halfway through the process, which no real scientist says is true. But the law says doctors have to tell their patients,” he said.
After winning the Democratic primary, Funk faces no opposition in the upcoming August election.
Memphis: Officials clash over abortion stances
The Shelby County Commission has not tabled any abortion-related legislation, but Memphis City Councilman JB Smiley announced plans Wednesday to introduce a resolution urging the Shelby County District Attorney and local law enforcement not to prosecute women or reproductive health doctors. the decisions.
Smiley, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for governor, also said that if elected governor, he will seek to decriminalize abortion in Tennessee.
“Banning abortion is not only legislatively immature, it ignores the fact that nearly 37% of counties in Tennessee are maternity deserts. This means the county has no access to maternity care, no hospital that offers obstetrical services, no OBGYNs, no certified nurse-midwives or birth centers,” he said in a campaign statement.
“Under my administration, we will ensure that women have control over what happens to their bodies and dramatically improve access to maternity care when they decide to grow their families,” he added.
In contrast, Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich, a former CNN that she will make decisions about abortions on a case-by-case basis.
“It’s a dangerous path for a DA to make sweeping, hypothetical statements with no accusation or real case before them,” she said.
Weirich’s Democratic challenger, Steve Mulroy, said if elected he would make an abortion lawsuit a “extremely low priority.”
The two candidates debated abortion on the WKNO Channel 10 show, “Behind The Headlines,” in which Weirich warned that choosing not to prosecute abortion cases could prompt the state’s attorney general to to intervene.
In 2021, Governor Bill Lee signed into law a bill allowing state intervention in prosecutorial decisions by local district attorneys to replace district attorneys who have refused to prosecute controversial cases and temporarily replace them. House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, sponsored the legislation after Funk announced he would not sue teachers for requiring masks as a precaution against COVID-19.
Mulroy disagreed and said district attorneys should be able to decide which high-priority versus low-priority cases will be.
Chattanooga and Knoxville: Silent on Abortion
The Knox County Commission, Knoxville City Council, Hamilton County Commission, and Chattanooga City Council have not pursued any legislation to support or oppose the new abortion laws.
“The Knox County Commission, as a local legislative body, has nothing to do with abortion, it is the business of state legislators,” Knox County Commissioner Larsen Jay said. .
The agenda of the Chattanooga City Council, whose next session is July 12, showed no abortion-related legislation. The Hamilton County Commission met on July 6 and its agenda did not indicate any abortion law.
Instead, positions on abortion were taken by county district attorneys.
Knox County District Attorney Charme Allen’s office said it will pursue abortion cases on a case-by-case basis.
“As we do in all cases, we will assess law enforcement investigations, apply the law as established by the General Assembly to the facts of the case, and pursue prosecutions where justice requires.” , said Sean McDermott, assistant district attorney.
Allen faces Democratic candidate Jackson Fenner, who has not declared his position on abortion.
Hamilton County District Attorney Neal Pinkston was ousted by Republican candidate Coty Wamp, who now faces Democratic candidate John Allen Brooks.
Both have spoken out on their stances against abortion, with Wamp seeking to enforce state abortion laws and Brooks saying he won’t sue anyone who makes reproductive health decisions.