1. What is a trigger law?
A trigger law is a law that exists, but cannot be enforced unless specific circumstances are met or changed.
2. What is Tennessee’s abortion trigger law?
In 2019 the TN legislature passed the “Human Life Protection Act.” This law makes abortion not only illegal, but also a felony. This classification means someone found guilty under this law faces criminal penalties and would lose their voting rights. This doesn’t apply to the pregnant person seeking or obtaining the abortion, but does punish the providers who provide or attempt to provide an abortion.
3. What triggers the law?
In order for this law to become effective one of two things need to happen: either the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) issues a judgment which “in whole or in part” overrules Roe v. Wade as modified by Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey*, or an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that “in whole or in part” restores the authority to ban abortions to the states is enacted. 30 days following either of these events abortion would become a criminal offense in Tennessee in all circumstances (including sexual assault, incest, or life of the pregnant person).
4. Wait -- what the hell does “in whole or in part” even mean?
This language is purposefully vague and likely means that any decision would result in an attempt to enact this law. They wrote it this way so they could use any chance possible to make abortion illegal in Tennessee.
5. How could the Mississippi case trigger this law?
There are four possible outcomes of this case, which centers on a 15-week abortion ban in Mississippi that is currently waiting on a decision from SCOTUS. We expect a decision in this case by late spring or summer 2022. The potential outcomes of this decision are:
- SCOTUS rules that states may enact pre-viability bans to any or some extent, and Mississippi’s ban is permissible.
- SCOTUS rules that states may enact pre-viability bans to any or some extent if the state’s interest is sufficient (again, vague) to justify such a ban, and Mississippi’s ban is not permissible.
- SCOTUS rules that states may only enact pre-viability bans in certain, rare circumstances (in this instance, the Mississippi ban could be deemed acceptable or not, super vague. Anyone else sensing a theme here?).
- SCOTUS rules that states may not enact pre-viability bans at all, and therefore Mississippi’s ban must fall. This is the only outcome which could not enact the trigger law.
Now is the time to speak up. Add your name to this petition or email your legislators to boldly and loudly declare that we Tennesseans will not be silent in defense of fundamental human rights and we will continue to fight back no matter what.
*The holding in these two cases outline the right to have an abortion in the U.S.
Roe’s major holdings: the constitutional right of privacy is broad enough to encompass person’s decision whether or not to terminate their pregnancy, but that this right is not absolute in that the state may properly assert important interests in safeguarding health, in maintaining medical standards and in protecting potential life
PP v. Casey’s: major holdings: that a state may not prohibit a person from making the ultimate decision to terminate a pregnancy before viability, pre-viability regulations are unconstitutional if they cause a pregnant person an undue burden on the right to terminate, a law regulating reproductive rights is unconstitutional on its face if, "in a large fraction of the cases in which [the statute] is relevant, it will operate as a substantial obstacle to a person’s choice to undergo an abortion.