An Abortion Bounty Law for Tennessee
By Tennessee Advocates for Planned Parenthood | March 11, 2022, 4:34 p.m.
Have you heard about the fall of Roe v. Wade and the dismantling of abortion rights across the country? A quick refresher: the Supreme Court of the United States will rule on a case within the next few months (check out the last question on this blog for more info) that will determine if Roe stands – and if abortion remains a constitutional right in the United States.
You might be thinking this has stopped politicians across the country from trying their hands at extreme abortion bans – unfortunately it’s had the opposite effect. Seemingly emboldened by this devastating potential future and following Texas’ lead, politicians have gone wild.
For six months now the bounty abortion ban in Texas (Senate Bill 8 or S.B. 8) has been terrorizing Texans with the threat of lawsuits for helping someone obtain an abortion after 6 weeks (before many people even know they’re pregnant!), overwhelming providers in surrounding states, denying Texans their constitutional right to abortion, and forcing Texans to leave the state for abortion care in droves. (We encourage you to read more about what’s going on in TX and how you can help here.)
Not to be outdone, politicians here in Tennessee tried to sneak in an even more extreme abortion ban in an amendment to HB2779/SB2582. This amendment builds on S.B. 8 – it’s a total abortion ban AND has the same bounty hunter provision. This bill allows any private citizen to sue someone who they suspect has provided an abortion, someone who has simply helped a pregnant person obtain an abortion in the state, or someone who might intend to provide abortion or help a patient.
So how in the hell did it get to this point?
We could talk for hours about the various political, religious, and cultural views on abortion that got us here (and we would LOVE to, so please join us here and here!) we’re going to walk you through how HB2779/SB2582 actually works.
- So is Tennessee trying to ban all abortions?
YES. This bill is essentially a total ban on abortion, with exceptions only to save the life of the pregnant person. That’s it. Tennessee lawmakers and Gov. Lee are no strangers to trying to pass some of the most restrictive and extreme abortion laws – we already have a trigger law in place to ban abortion in the absence of Roe. This new total abortion ban and right to sue combo would be effective immediately after Gov. Lee signs it.
2. What’s this about a bounty?
There are two main goals of this bill: to prevent Tennesseeans from getting abortions in the state they live in and to prevent anyone from helping someone seek an abortion. Following Texas’ lead, this bill attempts to side step federal law regarding abortion bans by using a novel legal strategy. As of March 2022, 11 states have introduced S.B.8 copycat bills. Tennessee just became #12 on that list.
The bill makes it illegal to help someone get an abortion by essentially placing bounties on the heads of people alleged to have helped patients access abortion care. It incentivizes vigilante justice and could flood our state courts with harassing and meritless lawsuits.
- By giving any person the right to sue someone suspected of providing abortion or helping a patient, this bill puts health care providers and citizens of this state at the mercy of any person, anywhere that wants to haul doctors, clinic staff, and individuals into court on frivolous claims.
- A family member who drives a woman to a clinic could face harsh penalties, as could friends who offering money to a woman in need of abortion care. Even counselors, clergy, and other medical staff could be penalized under this law.
- By targeting people who offer help to pregnant people seeking abortion, this bill isolates and stigmatizes people who want to end their pregnancy.
3. Can I still get an abortion in Tennessee?
Yes. Planned Parenthood is here to help you with access to health care – no matter what. This bill is still moving through the legislature, so current abortion laws here in TN remain in effect.
4. What’s next for this bill?
HB2779 is on the calendar to be heard in the House Health Subcommittee at Cordell Hull in Nashville on Tuesday, March 15, 2022 at 12pm CT/1pm ET. The Senate version, SB2582 is on the calendar for the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, March 15, 2022 at 1pm CT/2pm ET.
Before then, help us stop this bill in its tracks by contacting your legislators here.
We’ll be there for both hearings on March 15th, showing members of the committee we will not stand for these attacks on our bodily autonomy. If you’re in or around Nashville, come join us.
Can’t attend in person? You can watch the live stream of the House Health Subcommittee meeting here, and the Senate Judiciary here.
We know abortion bans are inherently racist and classist, and this ban serves to further harm and burden communities that already face systemic harm. We know many Black, Latinx, and Indigenous people, those with low incomes, and people in rural areas will face the greatest barriers to abortion access. And we know that in Tennessee, like many states, a legacy of systemic racism has trapped Black women and Latinxs in poverty at disproportionately high rates, and they likely will be most harmed by this ban.
We must make our voices heard, make our legislators know that abortion is nonnegotiable, it’s our right. We will always fight to protect abortion access in Tennessee.
We are at a tipping point for reproductive freedom and as we’ve seen politicians have no plans to stop. We need your help, your voice, and your dedication if we’re going to win this fight.
Join us in pledging to support, love, and care for Tennesseeans seeking abortion.
Want to get involved? Volunteer with PPTNM and TAPP.
Tags: Abortion, Tennessee, #BansOffOurBodies, Abortion Ban, tennessee legislature