Dr. Laura Andreson’s patient was 18 weeks pregnant when her water broke, a premature membrane rupture that occurred well before the baby could survive outside the womb.
With 20 years of medical experience, the Franklin doctor knew an abortion would be the best medical treatment for her patient. If she delayed, the mother would be at risk for severe bleeding, infection, multi-system organ failure and possibly death.
“For this woman, the best medical decision was an abortion,” Andreson said.
But under Tennessee’s new abortion ban, officially in effect as of Thursday, Andreson fears she would risk a felony charge for providing that medical treatment in the future.
“Sadly, the termination of a pregnancy will put me at risk of being charged with a felony,” she said.
Abortion:Here’s what Tennessee’s new, near-total abortion ban actually says as it goes into effect
Andreson on Thursday joined a group of Tennessee doctors protesting the new law, which criminalizes abortions. Doctors could face felony charges and prison time under the new statute, though pregnant patients are not criminally liable under the law.
The law has no exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape and incest, nor does it have a legal exception for abortions performed to prevent the severe injury or death of a pregnant patient.
Criminal defense attorneys and doctors like Andreson say Tennessee physicians could now possibly face arrest and criminal charges for performing any abortion for any reason in the state, even if the patient is in grave danger.
The new law provides an “affirmative defense” clause, through which an abortion provider could defend the procedure if the pregnant patient was in danger of dying or debilitating injury. But the defense would come after criminal felony charges.
“How sick does a woman need to be to provide enough evidence for me to develop my affirmative defense?” Andreson asked Thursday.
“To everyone listening: This law is dangerous to the women of Tennessee. Whatever your opinion is on abortion, please realize that these government mandates pose a significant threat to our health and many are downplaying these risks.”
Lee, anti-abortion groups say law shields doctors, but no exceptions exist
In two public appearances this week, Gov. Bill Lee contended the law was designed to allow doctors to perform abortions during medical emergencies threatening a mother’s life.
“Our law is designed to allow for doctors to perform procedures in dangerous maternal health situations where the life of the mother is at stake,” Lee told reporters in Memphis on Wednesday. “That is how that bill was constructed. It protects the life of the unborn. It protects the life of the mother.”
Gov. Bill Lee:Lee says abortion law protects doctors in severe cases. Critics say it’s not so clear.
Lee doesn’t outright mention legal exceptions, which are prevalent in other strict anti-abortion bans across the U.S. and protect doctors from criminal liability under criminal law.
The affirmative defense clause in Tennessee’s law does not protect doctors from criminal liability, but rather gives them an avenue to defend their medical practice once accused of a crime.
“Doctors should not be criminals for saving a pregnant woman’s life and helping a woman in her time of need,” Nashville Dr. Amy Gordon Bono said. “Our legislation is Tennessee is inhumane and insensitive to the complexities that patients and physicians encounter every day. Compassionate healthcare exists in a lot of gray areas.”
Strict new law passed in 2019
Tennessee Republicans passed the Human Life Protection Act in 2019, which was signed into law by Lee but quickly blocked by federal courts upon its passage. The U.S. Supreme Court decision this June to overturn constitutional access to abortion care triggered the law to take effect on Aug. 25.
Sexual assault survivor and child advocacy groups have already begun planning a lobbying push for specific exceptions for rape and incest, which cannot be considered until the General Assembly returns to session next year.
Abortion:Advocates plan push for change to Tennessee abortion law with zero exceptions
Anti-abortion group Tennessee Right to Life, a major architect of the 2019 law, lauded the law on Thursday.
“The right to life is the most fundamental right of any human being. To protect that right for our unborn children is a responsibility that we take seriously. Tennesseans should be proud of what our state has accomplished for our most vulnerable citizens,” Stacy Dunn, president of Tennessee Right to Life, said in a release.
Reach Melissa Brown at [email protected]
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