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With federal protection gone, abortions in Tennessee may cease in 30 days

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Rachel Iacavone
The Tennessee Human Rights Commission will look a lot different this fall after state lawmakers gutted the board.

Tennessee is likely to see a nearly total ban on abortion in about 30 days, after the U.S. Supreme Court issued an opinion ending federal protections for abortion on Friday, June 24. What’s next for Tennessee is laid out in a 2019 law known as the “Human Life Protection Act.”

Tennessee is one of more than two dozen states that have enacted so-called “trigger laws” that ban abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned or have old abortion bans that can now go into effect.

The final version of the 2019 law does include one formality: It requires the Tennessee attorney general, currently Republican Herbert Slatery, to opine that the trigger law has been triggered — a point that Democrats, in 2019, said might constitute an inappropriate delegation of the legislature’s law-making authority. That could lead to litigation that might delay the trigger law’s implementation.

Tennessee’s law has limited exceptions. It allows abortions to preserve the life and health of the mother, but it specifically excludes any burden on mental health. There is no exception for rape or incest, which were often included in previous attempts to ban abortions. Tennessee’s ban also makes no allowance for abortions in the very first few weeks of pregnancy, including those induced through medication.

The person receiving an abortion would not be subject to prosecution. Instead the person performing the procedure or prescribing the medication would be open to criminal charges — though some local prosecutors, including Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk, have suggested they will not enforce the law. An abortion could result in a Class C felony, including prison time and a fine of up to $10,000.

Legal challenges to the law are certain to be filed by groups like Planned Parenthood, though abortion providers have also been working on contingency plans to help patients travel to more abortion-friendly states.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Blake Farmer
Blake Farmer is WPLN's assistant news director, but he wears many hats - reporter, editor and host. He covers the Tennessee state capitol while also keeping an eye on Fort Campbell and business trends, frequently contributing to national programs. Born in Tennessee and educated in Texas, Blake has called Nashville home for most of his life.