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Tennessee sued over law banning adults from helping minors get abortions without parental consent

Tennessee sued over law banning adults from helping minors get abortions without parental consent

A legal challenge was filed Monday in an attempt to stop a Tennessee law that would ban adults from helping minors receive an abortion without parental approval.

The complaint, filed in federal court by a state Democratic lawmaker and abortion access activist, claims the law is unconstitutional, according to The Associated Press. The ban goes into effect July 1 and will make Tennessee the second state in the country to enact such a statute.

The challenge came on the second anniversary of the June 24, 2022, Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade and gave states the right to make individual laws on abortion access.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Democratic state Rep. Aftyn Behn and Nashville attorney Rachel Welty, who is also a longtime advocate for abortion access.

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“Two years ago today, I vowed to aid and abet abortion always, to not give up despite the overturn of Roe v. Wade, and to fight,” Welty said in a statement. “I need to stand up for other advocates around the state who should not have to live in fear of civil or criminal penalties for disseminating information about routine healthcare.”

Tennessee’s Republican-controlled legislature passed a measure earlier this year that made it illegal for an adult to intentionally recruit, harbor or transport a pregnant minor within the state to have an abortion without permission from the girl’s parents.

Anyone convicted of breaking the law would be charged with a Class A misdemeanor, which requires nearly one year in jail. The law does not include exemptions for minors who may have been raped by their parents, but a biological father who raped his daughter and caused her pregnancy cannot pursue civil action.

The Tennessee statute is similar to the “abortion trafficking” law enacted in Idaho last year. A federal judge has since temporarily blocked Idaho’s law after abortion access activists sued.

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An abortion-rights demonstrator holds a sign

The lawsuit challenging Tennessee’s statute names 11 district attorneys who work in middle Tennessee as the defendants, accusing them of ignoring Welty’s previous requests to define what behavior would be considered illegal under the law.

Welty and Behn argue in the lawsuit that the statute is “unconstitutionally vague,” noting that the word “recruits” is not defined. The lawsuit also alleges that the law criminalizes certain speech protected by the First Amendment.

“The law was intended to scare Tennesseans from helping each other when they need it the most,” Behn and Welty said in a joint statement. “It’s not working. We’ll still be here supporting each other, loving folks who’ve had abortions, and providing people with key information about their options.”

When state lawmakers were debating the legislation on the House floor, the bill’s sponsor, GOP Rep. Jason Zachary, referenced a social media post Behn previously made promising to help any young person travel out of state for an abortion.

Tennessee State Capitol

“Unfortunately, there’s even a member of this body that recently tweeted out, ‘I welcome the opportunity to take a young person out of state who wants to have an abortion, even if it lands me in jail,'” Zachary said in April, adding “that is what recruitment looks like.”

Tennessee bans abortions at all stages of pregnancy, with exemptions for molar pregnancies, ectopic pregnancies, to remove a miscarriage or to save the life of the mother.

Doctors must use “reasonable” medical judgment when determining whether performing the abortion can save the life of the pregnant woman or prevent major injury, but critics argue that this language lacks clarity for doctors.

A group of women is suing to clarify the state’s abortion ban, and a court decision is expected soon on whether the lawsuit can move forward or if the law can be placed on hold as the legal battle plays out.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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