NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) - Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed legislation that would make Tennessee one of the most pro-life states in America.

Lee signed the bill which would ban abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which is possible as early as six weeks into some pregnancies.

However, shortly after the signing the bill, a federal district court in Tennessee issued a temporary restraining order. 

The order comes after a lawsuit was filed by the Center of the Center for Reproductive Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and the ACLU of Tennessee filed the order.

Lee said the bill is "arguably the most conservative pro-life piece of legislation in the country."

"It's our responsibility to protect the most vulnerable in our community, and certainly the most vulnerable in Tennessee includes the unborn, which is why with this signature, Tennessee is one of the most pro-life states in America," Lee said during a signing ceremony posted on social media. "Life is precious and everything in life is worth protecting. We know that in Tennessee and I certainly know that in my heart, which is why we worked so hard together with the legislature to make sure this piece of legislation got done."

The ban was in effect for less than an hour on Monday before it was blocked by the court.

Jessica Sklarsky, who is the senior staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said "banning abortion is blatantly unconstitutional." Sklarsky added that the lawmakers who passed this law "are well aware."

“It is unconscionable that — in the middle of a public health crisis and a national reckoning on systemic racism — lawmakers are focused on trying to eliminate access to abortion. Abortion is an essential health service, and this law clearly violates the constitutional rights of patients and disproportionately harms communities of color. Tennessee should stop attacking reproductive healthcare and instead work to implement policies that will help marginalized communities. This law does the exact opposite.”

Anjali Dalal, who is the senior staff attorney at the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, called Monday's court decision "a critical win for people in Tennessee who will not lose access to their constitutional right to abortion."

“But we cannot lose sight of the big picture: that it took a court order to stop these politicians from pursuing a ruthless anti-abortion agenda in the middle of a pandemic, passing a ban that would disproportionately harm Black and brown people. We would urge Tennessee’s elected officials to abandon this destructive, shameful effort and return to the job they were hired for: serving their constituents.”

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, condemned Lee's signing the bill into law.

"Once again, the Lee Administration has turned its back on the women of Tennessee," Stewart said in a statement. "This clearly unconstitutional affront to a woman's right to choose has no exception of rape, incest or juveniles in the custody of the Department of Children's Services and could lead to the return of back-alley abortions to the state."

Stewart said the legislation was "crammed through" in the dead of night with no public input while the legislature was in session to pass the state's budget.

"While Democrats were trying to pass laws to combat COVID-19 and provide unemployment relief, Republicans were focused on passing an unconstitutional law that will ultimately cost taxpayers millions in legal fees to defend while ignoring Tennesseans that are truly suffering," Stewart said in a statement.

The Senate Democratic Caucus issued a statement after Lee signed the bill.

"Women should be able to choose when they are ready to start a family without any interference from the governor and radical politicians in the state legislature. Instead, Gov. Bill Lee has signed a dangerous law that places his office between a woman, her doctor and her family. This is election year pandering at its worst and, on top of that, an unconstitutional waste of taxpayer resources to attack a woman's right to making a private healthcare decision."

An hearing on the temporary restraining order is scheduled for July 24 at 10 a.m. 

Previous coverage

Governor to push legislation to end abortion

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