Tennessee abortion ban begins Thursday, angering activists

Mid-South

FILE – In this Nov. 10, 2020, file photo, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee speaks with reporters in Nashville, Tenn. A federal appeals court ruled Friday, Nov. 20, 2020, that Tennessee can begin outlawing abortions because of a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome, as well prohibit the procedure if it is based on the race or gender of the fetus. Earlier this year, Lee enacted the so-called “reason bans” as part of a sweeping anti-abortion measure that he signed earlier this year. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)

(NewsNation) — A near-total ban on abortions that does not include exceptions for rape and incest will take effect in Tennessee on Thursday as a 3-year-old trigger law kicks in.

Starting Thursday, anyone who performs, or attempts to perform, an abortion in Tennessee will be subject to a Class C felony, punishable by three to 15 years in prison.

The law does contain an “affirmative defense” clause, which means an abortion provider can defend their case if the mother’s life was in danger during the pregnancy, but only after felony charges have been leveled.

The trigger law, which was pushed by Republican Gov. Bill Lee, was one of many around the country designed to become law if federal protections in Roe v. Wade were ever overturned, which they were by the Supreme Court.

Abortion-rights protesters attend a rally following the United States Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, federally protected right to abortion, outside the state capitol in Lansing, Mich., Friday, June 24, 2022. The Supreme Court has ended constitutional protections for abortion that had been in place nearly 50 years, a decision by its conservative majority to overturn the court’s landmark abortion cases. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

“When Tennessee’s ‘trigger law’ takes effect, our state will have a total abortion ban with no exception,” Ashley Coffield, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi, said in a call with reporters. “This law puts the burden on the physician to prove the abortion was medically necessary to save a patient’s life, rather than on the state.”

In an interview with the Chattanooga Free Press, the vice president of Tennessee’s Right to Life group, Angela Madden, defended the trigger law and the affirmative defense clause, arguing doctors should not be worried.

“No doctor’s been charged or prosecuted,” Madden said. “So we don’t believe that doctors should be fearful if they are performing abortions to save the life of the mother or to prevent serious, irreversible impairment.”

Abortion rights groups took to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to protest Tennessee’s law, according to WKRN. They assailed the law and made a call for people to vote for “progressive” candidates who would protect abortion access.

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