NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee’s governor signed into law Friday a 20-week abortion ban that exposes doctors to felonies and explicitly forbids exceptions when a woman’s mental health is in danger.
The law signed by Republican Gov. Bill Haslam takes effect on July 1.
It requires doctors to determine viability by measuring the head of a fetus if gestation is 20 weeks or more. Doctors who abort viable fetuses thereafter would be committing a state felony unless the woman risks death or serious damage to a major bodily function by continuing with the pregnancy.
Democrats argued that it bucks established medical standards while interfering with a woman’s ability to make a deeply personal decision.
Republicans blocked their efforts to include exceptions for rape and incest. The law also blocks mental health exceptions for abortions that could keep a woman from killing or irreversibly harming herself.
State Attorney General Herbert Slatery’s analysis of the measure said it could be unconstitutional because it doesn’t account for severe mental and emotional harm without medically necessary abortions. But he also has said his office would defend the law in court.
Supporters said the “Tennessee Infants Protection Act” can save unborn children and withstand a constitutional challenge, citing similar laws in about 20 other states.
Bryan Harris, the president of Tennessee Right to Life, said the law “strengthens protections for unborn children and abortion-vulnerable women and girls by preventing elective abortions, except in rare instances, after an unborn child is determined to be viable.”
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ state chapter remains concerned that doctors risk criminal charges for simply using their best medical judgment.
The attorney general agreed.
Without proving the doctor has “guilty knowledge” or recklessness, Slatery wrote, “such statutes impermissibly subject a physician to criminal liability even though he was acting in good faith in determining whether a medical emergency or medical necessity exists.”
Last month, the attorney general dropped his defense of two other state abortion restrictions and said he would stop enforcing them because their constitutionality was challenged in court.