Tennessee ‘trigger laws’ to go into effect August 25

Published: Jul. 26, 2022 at 4:47 PM CDT
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - The state of Tennessee’s abortion “trigger laws” are now set to go into effect on August 25.

In a final procedural move made by the United States Supreme Court Tuesday afternoon, the specific date for trigger laws in Tennessee was changed. SCOTUS’ decisions are released on certain days, but the actual judgment is not effective for 30 days after.

Under the Human Life Protection Act or trigger law, doctors who perform abortions could be charged with a felony and spend years in jail.

While some state lawmakers said Tennessee’s abortion trigger law is meant to protect human life, a local physician believes the law will tie doctors’ hands and lead to women dying.

“It is going to put us between a rock and a hard place,” Dr. Katrina Green said.

Green, who is a Nashville emergency physician, treats things like ectopic pregnancies. If left to grow, Green said it could rupture and kill the mother. Green said now in fear of being prosecuted, some doctors may hesitate to act.

“What are we supposed to do,” Green said. “Do we wait until it is too late and get sued by the family and rightly so, or do we do our job and have to defend that in court?”

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Susan Lynn, said the trigger law has an affirmative defense when necessary to save the mother’s life.

“It would be on consultation with her doctor,” Lynn said. “Most doctors are exceedingly ethical and willing to obey the law. If the woman’s life is in danger, he can help her facilitate that.”

Nashville attorney David Raybin believes by making it an affirmative defense, it puts the burden on the doctor to show the abortion was justified and makes it more difficult for the doctor to be acquitted. Raybin said any doctor charged could be arrested and would have to lawyer up to counter allegations that the doctor acted illegally. A jury would have to be convinced that the doctor had to perform the abortion to save the mother’s life.

“That is the situation we are staring down in 29 days,” Green said.

Green claims that similar laws are delaying care in other states.

“We have seen in other states where ectopic pregnancies have been allowed to rupture for nine hours while they discuss things with lawyers before being allowed to go to the operating room,” Green said. “Women have nearly died already, and women will die when this happens. It is just a matter of time.”

District Attorney Glenn Funk said he won’t prosecute doctors who perform abortions in Davidson County. Rep. Lynn said that the state passed a law that allows Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery to replace district attorneys who refuse to prosecute those who break laws. Lynn said she does not see the law being amended at any point to criminalize women who get abortions.

“As required by State law, I am notifying the Tennessee Code Commission that Roe and Casey have been overturned by the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs, returning abortion regulation to the states,” said Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery III. “Thirty days from today, on August 25th, 2022, Tennessee’s Human Life Protection Act will come into effect.”

Slatery’s office said they were waiting on the Supreme Court to enter its official judgment on Roe V. Wade, which is different than the opinion issued last month, to notify the code commission.

Slatery’s office was expecting this official judgment to be entered this month. This will penalize physicians who perform surgical abortions in Tennessee or send abortion pills to Tennessee.

Protesters react to a proposed abortion ban.
Protesters react to a proposed abortion ban.

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