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Tennessee Senate OKs a bill that would make it illegal for adults to help minors seeking abortions

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Republican lawmakers in Tennessee on Wednesday advanced legislation making it illegal for adults to help minors get an abortion without parental consent, sparking objections from Democrats who counter that doing so could result in young victims needing approval from their parents who may have raped them in order to terminate the pregnancies.

The GOP-controlled Senate signed off on the proposal 26-3. The bill is still advancing toward the floor in the House.

“There are people who are in situations and circumstances that we cannot fathom,” said Democratic state Sen. Raumesh Akbari. “If someone is a victim of rape or incest and a teenager, and they want to seek these services, their abusers can determine if they can access them. That’s a step too far.”

Ever since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to abortion in 2022, anti-abortion advocates have been pushing states to find a way to block pregnant people from crossing state lines to obtain the procedure.

So far, Idaho has been the only state to enact a so-called “ abortion trafficking ” law, but a federal judge has temporarily blocked the law after reproductive rights groups sued to challenge it.

The first-of-its-kind measure made it illegal to obtain abortion pills for a minor or help them leave the state for an abortion without parental knowledge and consent. Legislation has since been introduced this year in Oklahoma, Mississippi and Tennessee.

The Tennessee version would make it illegal for an adult who “recruits, harbors, or transports” a pregnant minor within the state to get an abortion without consent from the minor’s parents or guardians. Supporters have touted the bill as a much needed parental rights protection measure, pointing out that abortion rights groups are increasingly distributing information on how to acquire abortions in states with strict bans.

“We’ve decided abortion is only available to save the life of the mother,” said Republican state Sen. Paul Rose. “Unless the parents approve, you cannot take a minor across state lines to get an abortion.”

However, critics counter that the bill does not contain exemptions for minors who may have been raped by their parents or guardians. Instead, the legislation states that the biological father of the pregnant minor may not pursue a civil action if the pregnancy was caused by rape.

Under the Senate version advanced Wednesday, those convicted of breaking the law would be charged with a Class A misdemeanor, which would require a nearly one year imprisonment sentence. This differs than the proposal being considered in the GOP-controlled House, where supporters want the penalties to be a Class C felony — which can carry up to a 15-year prison sentence and up to $10,000 in fines.

Tennessee bans abortions at all stages of pregnancy but there are exemptions in cases of molar pregnancies, ectopic pregnancies, and to remove a miscarriage or to save the life of the mother. Notably, doctors must use their “reasonable medical” judgment — a term that some say is too vague and can be challenged by fellow medical officials — in deciding whether providing the procedure can save the life of the pregnant patient or prevent major injury.

A group of women is currently suing to clarify the state’s abortion ban. A court decision is expected soon on whether the lawsuit can continue or if the law can be placed on hold as the legal battle continues.

Kimberlee Kruesi, The Associated Press


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