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Court: Tennessee can enforce Down syndrome abortion ban

November 21, 2020
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A federal appeals court ruled Friday that Tennessee can begin outlawing abortions because of a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome, as well as prohibit the procedure if it’s based on the race or gender of the fetus.

Tennessee Republican Gov. Bill Lee enacted the so-called “reason bans” earlier this year as part of a sweeping anti-abortion measure. The law gained national attention because it banned abortion as early as six weeks — making it one of the strictest in the country — but it included several other anti-abortion components.

The law was immediately blocked by a lower federal court just hours after Lee signed it into law.

However, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision will allow the state to enforce the reason bans while abortion rights groups continue their court battle against that law.

The plaintiffs, which include Tennessee abortion providers being represented by reproductive rights groups, had argued the ban was improperly vague, but the court disagreed.

Currently, more than a dozen states have similar reason bans in place.

“These bans are just another way anti-abortion politicians are attempting to limit the constitutional right to abortion care and to create stigma,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, in a statement. “Decisions about whether and when to continue or to end a pregnancy are best made by the individual and their family.”

The Attorney General’s office said in a statement that they “appreciate the Sixth Circuit lifting the lower court’s injunction” and looked forward to continuing defending the statute.

“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,” Lee said in a statement. “Protecting our most vulnerable Tennesseans is worth the fight.”

Immediately following the appeals court ruling, the plaintiffs’ attorneys filed a request in lower federal court for a temporary restraining order to block the reason bans once again, but this time argued the law illegally prohibits a patient from “obtaining constitutionally protected pre-viability abortion care.”

“(The) Sixth Circuit only addressed plaintiffs’ vagueness claims and explicitly declined to issue any ruling with respect to plaintiffs’ claims that the Reason Bans violate patients’ constitutional right to pre-viability abortion,” the attorneys wrote.

The court had not issued a ruling on that as of Friday evening.

Down syndrome is a genetic abnormality that causes developmental delays and medical conditions such as heart defects and respiratory and hearing problems.

According to the National Down Syndrome Society, about one in every 700 babies in the United States — or about 6,000 a year — is born with the condition, which results from a chromosomal irregularity.

The rarity of the condition has prompted abortion rights groups to paint the Down syndrome bans as part of yet another thinly veiled effort by lawmakers to continue chipping away at a patient’s right to an abortion.

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