Tennessee & Abortion: Sixth Circuit Upholds Prohibition on Abortion Chosen for Race, Gender, or Down Syndrome Diagnosis

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has decided that Tennessee may begin to enforce one component of a broader pro-life law that had been delayed by legal challenges and a federal judge’s temporary injunction. The component of the bill now allowed to take effect prohibits doctors from knowingly performing abortions sought because of the unborn child’s race or gender, or because the child was diagnosed in utero with Down syndrome.

This summer, less than one hour after Tennessee governor Bill Lee signed the bill into law, a federal judge blocked it from taking effect, issuing a temporary injunction against the policy after the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a challenge.

“Plaintiffs have demonstrated they will suffer immediate and irreparable injury, harm, loss, or damage if injunctive relief is not granted pending a preliminary injunction hearing,” wrote U.S. district judge William L. Campbell in his decision.

“The Act will immediately impact patients seeking abortions and imposes criminal sanctions on abortion providers. The time-sensitive nature of the procedure also weighs in favor of injunctive relief pending a preliminary injunction hearing,” Campbell added.

Late last week, the Sixth Circuit reversed part of that decision, upholding the portion of the law that prohibits abortions based on sex, gender, or Down-syndrome diagnosis. The order does not affect the injunction against Tennessee’s prohibition on abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which usually occurs at about six weeks’ gestation.

The decision to uphold part of the law was made by a split three-judge panel, with Senior Judge Eugene E. Siler Jr. and Judge Amul Thapar siding with Tennessee and Judge Eric L. Clay dissenting. According to the opinion, the argument from abortion providers against the law was too vague and likely would not succeed if it proceeded further in court.

“Every life is precious and every child has inherent human dignity. Our law prohibits abortion based on the race, gender or diagnosis of Down syndrome of the child and the court’s decision will save lives. Protecting our most vulnerable Tennesseans is worth the fight,” Lee said in a statement on Friday following the decision.

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