Tennessee passes heartbeat abortion ban; ACLU, Planned Parenthood filing lawsuit

Woman holds ultrasound images
Woman holds ultrasound images | Getty Images/Westend61

Tennessee’s legislature passed a law that would ban most abortions done when a heartbeat is detected in an unborn baby, which can be as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.

The Tennessee Senate passed Senate Bill 1236 last Friday, in a vote of 23-5. Earlier this year, the legislation had passed the state House of Representatives in a vote of 65-21, with 7 not voting.

The legislation also prohibits an abortion based on the sex, race, or disability status of an unborn child; both this and heartbeat ban include certain exceptions, namely if the mother has a major medical emergency.

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Governor Bill Lee has expressed his intention to sign the bill, taking to his official Twitter account to profess his support for “the strongest pro-life law in our state’s history.”

“One of the most important things we can do to be pro-family is to protect the rights of the most vulnerable in our state, and there is none more vulnerable than the unborn,” tweeted Lee last Friday.

Republican State Senator Dolores Gresham of Somerville, one of the sponsors of the legislation, said in a statement the legislation showed that “Tennessee is a state that values life.”

“This comprehensive, life-affirming legislation prohibits abortion once a heartbeat has been detected. I am very pleased it has been passed to protect those who are unable to speak for themselves,” said Gresham, as reported by

“I also appreciate the work done by our Senate Judiciary Committee in helping get the bill in the best shape possible to move forward.”

The American Civil Liberties Union, along with the Center for Reproductive Rights and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, have sued to block the legislation even before Lee signs it into law.

Anjali Dalal, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, said in a statement released Friday that she considered the bill “blatantly unconstitutional” and claimed that it “disproportionately harms Black and Brown people.”

“… these politicians are more interested in furthering an anti-abortion agenda than in serving their constituents. The ability to get an abortion must not depend on where you live or how much money you make,” stated Dalal.

Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president and CEO of Planned Parenthood claimed that Tennessee was “exploiting the fear and uncertainty of a global pandemic to push their cruel anti-abortion agenda.”

“This opportunistic attack on our reproductive rights, passed in the middle of the night under the cover of darkness, will disproportionately impact Black Tennesseans due to systemic oppression,” she argued.

“We won’t stand for this, and we are going to do everything possible to fight back against this extremely harmful law.”

Last year, multiple states, including Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Ohio, passed laws that banned abortions when a fetal heartbeat was detected, with some medical exemptions.

These measures frequently have been legally challenged and have often lost in the courts, with judges blocking the measures from taking effect due to them being considered de facto abortion bans.

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