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Judges Block Tennessee Abortion Ban Due to Prenatal Diagnosis of Down Syndrome

Federal judges blocked abortion restrictions in Tennessee, which barred the procedure if it was motivated by a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome or the race or sex of the fetus.

The decision also kept in place the deadlock on a six-week abortion ban.

Tennessee Republican Governor Bill Lee introduced limits on reproductive rights last year. The law has gained notoriety as one of the toughest restrictions on abortion rights in the United States.

The Sixth U.S. Court of Appeals in Cincinnati upheld earlier rulings that blocked the state’s ban on abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, a time when most are unaware they are pregnant.

Judge Martha Craig Daughtrey wrote: “We note that state legislatures have recently passed more anti-abortion regulations than at any time in the history of this country. However, this development is not a signal for the courts to change course.

“In fact, it’s quite the opposite. The judiciary exists as a brake on the majority regime, ”she added.

Down syndrome is a genetic disease that causes developmental delays as well as medical problems such as heart defects, breathing and hearing problems.

According to the National Down Syndrome Society, about 6,000 babies a year are born with the disease, or about one in 700 babies.

The US Department of Justice sued the state of Texas over its six-week abortion ban following the US Supreme Court’s majority decision to take no action and allow the law to go into effect September 1.

The law allows private citizens to sue anyone who helps facilitate an abortion, with the incentive of a payment of $ 10,000.

The restrictions in Tennessee include criminal penalties for abortion providers.

ACLU’s Deputy Director of Reproductive Freedom Project Brigitte Amiri said: “The appeals court today rightly upheld nearly 50 years of precedent by blocking these dangerous laws. With all eyes on the devastating impact of Texas’ abortion ban, this is good news for Tennessians and the rule of law. “

The Supreme Court case of Deer vs. Wade set the precedent in 1973 that abortions should be legal until such time as a fetus can survive outside the womb, which is usually after about 24 weeks of pregnancy.

Samantha Fisher, spokesperson for Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery, said her office was disappointed with the decision and will call for further consideration.

The six-week ban and the so-called “ban on grounds” were blocked by a lower federal court just hours after Governor Lee signed the anti-abortion package into Tennessee law in 2020.

A Sixth Circuit panel of judges later ruled that the state of Tennessee could still enforce the grounds ban even as it was challenged in court.

Friday’s ruling was made by a panel of three judges, two of whom were not part of the previous ruling.

The most recent ruling states that the grounds ban does not give providers “a reasonable opportunity to know when they are allowed to perform an abortion.”

“Because of this ambiguity and uncertainty, many abortion providers may well choose to steer clear of anything that could be interpreted as prohibited conduct, resulting in the inaccessibility of a right considered to be fundamental. under the Constitution, ”Justice Daughtrey wrote.

The Sixth Circuit authorized a similar ban, also based on a diagnosis of Down’s syndrome, to go into effect in Ohio in April. He overturned two previous court decisions that blocked the application of the law first put in place in 2017.

In Friday’s opinion, the panel of judges said the split results were due to differences in Ohio law and the facts of each case.

Ohio law does not address reasons of sex and race, the opinion says.

The full panel agreed to uphold the blockade on Tennessee’s six-week abortion ban. Judge Amul Thapar disagreed with the reasons for the ban, but also commented more widely on abortion.

“The courts should return that choice to the American people – to whom it belongs,” Justice Thapar wrote.

“State legislatures can do what we can’t: listen to the community, create fact-specific rules with appropriate exceptions, gather more evidence, and update their laws if things don’t work out right. And if the public is unhappy, they can fight back at the polls. “

The independent has contacted Governor Lee’s office for comment.

Associated Press contributed to this report


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