Tennessee can enforce ban on abortion of babies diagnosed with Down syndrome, court rules

Protesters on both sides of the abortion issue gather in front of the U.S. Supreme Court building during the Right To Life March, on January 18, 2019, in Washington, D.C.
Protesters on both sides of the abortion issue gather in front of the U.S. Supreme Court building during the Right To Life March, on January 18, 2019, in Washington, D.C. | Mark Wilson/Getty Images

A federal court has ruled that the state of Tennessee can enforce its ban on abortions that are sought merely because the unborn baby has Down syndrome or based on its race or sex.

The pro-life abortion bans were signed into law by Gov. Bill Lee in July as part of a larger abortion bill, but the legislation was subsequently blocked by a lower court.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Friday that the law that would ban abortion in most circumstances once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which is often around six weeks into a pregnancy, can be enforced while the litigation against it carries on, The Epoch Times reported.

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The ruling came after the state sought a preliminary injunction against an earlier order by Judge William Campbell of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee who had issued a temporary restraining order against the “reason bans” that were signed into law in July.

The lawsuit against the law was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, along with the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and others. Campbell argued that the plaintiffs had shown that “they will suffer immediate and irreparable injury, harm, loss, or damage if injunctive relief is not granted pending a preliminary injunction hearing.”

However, the 11-page ruling by the appeals court stated that plaintiffs “have not shown a likelihood of success on the merits of their vagueness challenges to Section 217… On the other hand, the district court’s preliminary injunction of Section 217 ‘subjects [the state] to ongoing irreparable harm.’”

The appeals court quoted Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts’ 2012 ruling in Maryland v. King in which he wrote: “Any time a state is enjoined by a court from effectuating statutes enacted by representatives of its people, it suffers a form of irreparable injury. The equitable factors therefore weigh in favor of granting a stay.”

Lee responded to Friday’s ruling, stating: “Every life is precious and every child has inherent human dignity. Our law prohibits abortion based on the race, gender, or diagnosis of Down syndrome of the child and the court’s decision will save lives. Protecting our most vulnerable Tennesseans is worth the fight.”

Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser supported the governor's signing of the “heartbeat” bill into law, seeing it as part of a broader trend of state-level victories.

“We are pleased to see this pro-life legislation signed into law – it includes some of the strongest protections for unborn children in the nation, and is the latest evidence that pro-life support is surging throughout the states,” said Dannenfelser, as reported by LifeNews.

“As Joe Biden and other party leaders continue to promote taxpayer-funded abortion on demand and even infanticide, we are encouraged that pro-life lawmakers in the states continue to be motivated to promote strong pro-life policies,” she added. 

Before signing the bill, the governor had remarked in a video posted to Twitter: “It’s our responsibility to protect the most vulnerable in our community and certainly the most vulnerable in Tennessee includes the unborn.”

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