Tennessee Lawmakers Introduce Bill To Allow Fathers To Veto Abortions

A bill introduced in the Tennessee General Assembly this week would allow a man who gets a woman pregnant to request an injunction barring her from having an abortion. 

The legislation, SB0494 in the Senate and HB1079 in the House, would require a court hearing to be held within 14 days of a petition being filed by the individual seeking an injunction. 

At the hearing, if the man can prove that he is the biological father and that there is a “reasonable probability” that the woman would obtain an abortion, the court shall issue an injunction prohibiting her from terminating the pregnancy. Proof of parenthood requires only that the petitioner acknowledges paternity. A DNA test is not required. 

If the woman violates the injunction by obtaining an abortion, the court may hold her in civil or criminal contempt. There are no exceptions for rape or incest. 

The legislation was sponsored by state Sen. Mark Pody (R) and state Rep. Jerry Sexton (R). 

If enacted into law, the measure is likely to be found unconstitutional. In the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision, the Supreme Court struck down a state requirement that a woman notify her husband before she sought an abortion. 

Similar efforts to allow fathers to veto abortions in other states have been unsuccessful. In 2014, a Missouri legislator introduced a bill that would have required doctors to receive “written, notarized consent” prior to performing an abortion from the man who got the woman pregnant. The bill did not receive a vote. 

Last summer, Tennessee passed a sweeping anti-abortion bill outlawing abortion once a doctor can detect cardiac activity in an embryo, which typically happens about six weeks into a pregnancy ― before most people would know they are pregnant. The measure was promptly blocked in court.

“This is an unconstitutional, insulting, and dangerous bill,” Francie Hunt, executive director of Tennessee Advocates for Planned Parenthood, said in a statement. “Nobody should have the power to make health care decisions for someone else — not a judge, a partner, and certainly not a rapist regardless of paternity.

“The priorities of Tennessee’s politicians are drastically out of step with constituents struggling through the coronavirus pandemic. The legislature needs to stop trying to distract the public from their leadership failures with increasingly stigmatizing abortion restrictions.”

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