A federal judge on Monday struck down Tennessee’s 20-week abortion ban as unconstitutional, citing the state’s lack of evidence to back up its claim that the law is aimed at protecting women’s health.
U.S. District Judge Thomas Phillips’s ruling struck down a law that would have blocked abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected. That could happen as early as six weeks, and would bar most abortions before the 23rd week of pregnancy, when such a heartbeat can be detected and pregnancy can be legally terminated.
Although many laws can be blocked in the interim, Phillips struck down the law after state officials failed to meet the legal burden of showing that their goal was to protect women. He also limited the way in which a new law that drastically restricts who can provide abortions could be enforced. The law does not exempt minors, “only the mother,” Phillips wrote.
Under Tennessee’s 20-week abortion ban, female minors or those who can prove an inability to make a personal decision with their partners must go to court and obtain a court order allowing a future abortion if it’s within 20 weeks of pregnancy.
Tennessee’s attorney general has argued that an abortion ban once a fetal heartbeat is detected represents a measure to “protect the unborn from undue pain,” and that the state must be able to regulate how early in pregnancy life is considered a “viable fetus.” On Monday, Phillips ruled that Tennessee does not have evidence that providing life-saving treatment at term to the fetus would provide enough “enhancement of fetal life to outweigh the undesirability of doing so,” despite past conversations with physicians.
Tennessee is one of just a handful of states with such a ban. The judge’s ruling has no immediate effect, however, as it is subject to appeal. If the law is upheld in court, the ban would have led to an estimated 10,000 new cases of abortions in the state.