Lone Star, Meet TriStar
Last September, Texas broke brains when it passed a law allowing private parties to file civil lawsuits against any person who performed, aided in performing, or intended to perform, an abortion of a child over the age of six weeks. As with every new abortion law, Texas’s was pummeled with legal action from activists seeking to have it overturned; yet, in part due to the genius of the law itself and in part due to the mangled nature of the federal courts’ prior rulings on abortion, the law remains standing.
Idaho has since followed suit, with a heartbeat abortion bill passed just yesterday with a similar civil enforcement mechanism that awaits the Republican governor’s signature. Now, Tennessee is poised to be the third state to use the mechanism, as the state house health committee considers a bill that looks a lot like Texas’s.
Back in 2020, Tennessee joined several other states in passing a law prohibiting doctors from performing an abortion when a heartbeat can be detected, or after approximately six weeks gestation. A federal judge issued an immediate preliminary injunction after Tennessee’s Gov. Bill Lee signed the law, however, and the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals punctured the effort again when it blocked the law in September 2021. The new legislation, proposed by state Rep. Rebecca Alexander as an amendment to a broader caption bill, would circumvent state enforcement by instead relying on civil suits. Lee says he hasn’t reviewed the specifics of Alexander’s amendment, but seems hesitant to endorse it, at least until the final nail is in the coffin of the 2020 heartbeat bill.
“We’re currently in a situation with the existing legislation in place that is being reviewed by the courts, a very important process,” Lee told the Tennessean. “My sense is that we need to let that play out.”
The question, of course, is not just if such a law is bullet-proof, but if it actually works—if it actually saves lives.
Writes the New York Times:
Data shows that abortions in Texas have dropped 60 percent since its law took effect in September. Some clinics in neighboring states have seen an 800 percent increase in demand for abortion as women cross state borders for the procedure. One of those states, Oklahoma, is considering its own six-week ban.
There’s still much to be done in the fight for life. Just as conservatives should not rest on the laurels of one success in Texas, Tennesseans should not hesitate to encourage their governor and their legislators to finish the job. The success of the Texas law should be a green light to red states that would see life protected within their own borders—especially as the presence of looser laws in bordering states limits the effect of even the most thorough prohibitions.
Tennessee has a chance to prove itself one of the leading states in the fight, but only if it can keep its head and learn from the weaknesses of the 2020 heartbeat bill. It is not enough to throw up one’s hands and say “we tried” when the lives of our nation’s children are on the line.