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Tennessee ‘trigger’ law banning nearly all abortions goes into effect

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(NASHVILLE, Tenn.) -- Tennessee's "trigger" law banning abortions went into effect Thursday, making providing abortions a felony in the state.

The Tennessee near-total abortion ban, which was enacted in 2019, criminalizes performing or attempting to perform an abortion, only making exceptions for cases where it is necessary to prevent death or serious and permanent bodily injury to the mother, according to the law.

Trigger laws are written to go into effect after an event occurs, in this case the law was written to go into effect 30 days after a Supreme Court ruling that overturns Roe v. Wade, overturning federal protections for abortion rights, in whole or in part. While the Supreme Court released its opinions in June, the formal judgement was issued by the court in July.

In a letter to the Tennessee Code Commission last month, the state's attorney general, Herbert Slatery III, announced the effective date of the law, called the Human Life Protection Act, is Aug. 25.

Under the law, performing or attempting to perform an abortion is a Class C felony.

For an abortion to be legal under the law's exception, it must be performed or attempted by a licensed physician, the physician must determine the abortion was necessary to prevent the death or serious injury of the pregnant woman and the abortion must provide the best opportunity for the fetus to survive, unless that threatens the life of the pregnant woman or could cause serious injury, according to the law.

Under the ban, abortions cannot be authorized based on a "claim or diagnosis" relating to mental health, including claims that the woman would "engage in conduct that would result in her death or substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function," according to the law.

The law does not criminalize women or pregnant people seeking an abortion.

Tennessee's heartbeat law was already in effect, as of June 28, banning all abortions after embryonic cardiac activity is detected, which generally occurs around six weeks, before many women or pregnant people know they are pregnant.

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