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Tennessee governor OKs penalizing adults who help minors receive abortions, gender-affirming care


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee's governor has approved legislation designed to block adults from helping minors get an abortion or receive gender-affirming care without parental consent, proposals that are both likely to face immediate legal challenges when they go into effect later this year.

Republican Gov. Bill Lee quietly signed the bills Tuesday without comment. However, the governor's actions weren't unexpected. During his time in office, Lee has enacted sweeping restrictions on gender-affirming care for young people and has defended Tennessee's near total ban on abortion while stressing his opposition to the procedure.

Both laws go into effect July 1.

Lee's actions mean Tennessee will soon become just the second state in the nation to enact legislation that supporters say will stop any adult who “intentionally recruits, harbors, or transports” a pregnant minor within the state to get an abortion without consent from the minor’s parents or guardians. Ambulance drivers, emergency medical services personnel and other common transportation services are exempt under the law.

Those convicted of breaking the law would be charged with a Class A misdemeanor, which requires a nearly one year imprisonment sentence.

"Parents have a right to be involved with their daughters’ wellbeing. The abortion industry has no right to keep parents in the dark at a time when their daughters are so vulnerable and could possibly be in danger,” said Stacy Dunn, Tennessee Right to Life's president, in a statement.

Meanwhile, Tennessee is so far the first state to pursue penalizing adults who help minors receive gender-affirming care without parental consent. The bill mirrors almost the same language from a so-called anti-abortion trafficking proposal, where violations could range from talking to an adolescent about a website on where to find care to helping that young person travel to another state with looser restrictions on gender-affirming care services.

Last year, Idaho became the first state to enact the so-called “ abortion trafficking ” law, but a federal judge has since temporarily blocked the law after reproductive rights groups sued to challenge it.

The American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to Gov. Lee earlier this month warning that “there is nothing” in the statute that “suggests a court will look more favorably on its content-based criminalization of speech and expression" as they described the bill as “unconstitutionally vague.”

At the same time, Planned Parenthood CEO Ashley Coffield told reporters that her organization was in “consultation with our lawyers about how to comply with the law if we need to comply with it or whether we can challenge the law.”

The Tennessee version does not contain exemptions for minors who may have been raped by their parents or guardians. Instead, the new statute says that the biological father of the pregnant minor may not pursue a civil action if the pregnancy was caused by rape.

Like Idaho, Tennessee bans abortions at all stages of pregnancy but there are exemptions in cases of molar pregnancies, ectopic pregnancies, and to remove a miscarriage or to save the life of the mother. Notably, doctors must use their “reasonable medical” judgment — a term that some say is too vague and can be challenged by fellow medical officials — in deciding whether providing the procedure can save the life of the pregnant patient or prevent major injury.

A group of women is currently suing to clarify the state’s abortion ban. A court decision is expected soon on whether the lawsuit can continue or if the law can be placed on hold as the legal battle continues.