A Tennessee House panel advances a bill that would criminalize helping minors get abortions


NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee would be the latest state to make it illegal for an adult to help a minor get an abortion without parental consent under legislation that advanced Tuesday inside the GOP-controlled Statehouse.

The proposal stems from the growing push among anti-abortion advocates to get states to implement abortion bans and convince them to find ways for lawmakers to block pregnant people from crossing state lines to obtain the procedure since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022.

So far, Idaho has been the only state to enact a so-called “ abortion trafficking ” law. The first-of-its-kind measure made it illegal to obtain abortion pills for a minor or help them leave the state for an abortion without parental knowledge and consent.

A federal judge blocked the law after reproductive rights groups sued to challenge it.

Yet even as legal questions linger in the Idaho case, other states like Tennessee are moving forward with implementing their own versions. Lawmakers in Missouri and Oklahoma have also introduced similar proposals.

“This bill is simply a parental rights bill,” said Republican Rep. Jason Zachary, who is sponsoring the proposal.

If enacted, the Tennessee measure would make it illegal for an adult who “recruits, harbors, or transports” a pregnant minor within the state to get an abortion without consent from the minor’s parents or guardians. According to supporters, this could involve not only driving a minor, but also could include providing information about nearby abortion providers or passing along which states have looser abortion laws.

Similar to the Idaho version, the Tennesee bill attempts to sidestep violating a constitutional right to travel between states by only criminalizing the portion of the trip to an out-of-state abortion provider that takes place in Tennessee.

Those convicted of breaking the law would be charged with a Class C felony, which can carry up to a 15-year prison sentence and up to $10,000 in fines.

Despite assurances from Zachary that the proposal was straightforward, the Republican declined to weigh in when quizzed by Democratic lawmakers about how the law would be applied and interpreted.

For example, there is no definition for “recruits” in Tennessee code, meaning that a judge would ultimately have to decide, Zachary said.

Zachary also declined to weigh in on whether minors would need to get permission from their parents to receive an abortion if it was one of their parents who sexually assaulted them.

“In some situations, the sole parent or legal guardian may be a rapist,” said Democratic Rep. John Ray Clemmons. “So my concern here is if a child wants to get advice, wants to get assistance in any way… they first have to go find a lawyer, or go into a court alone to petition the court for help.”

After just under an hour of questioning, the House subcommittee panel advanced Zachary’s bill, with only the two Democratic members objecting. The legislation must still clear the full House and Senate chambers. Republican Gov. Bill Lee has not publicly weighed in on whether he supports the idea but previously has signed off on other anti-abortion bills.

Tennessee law bans abortion throughout all stages of pregnancy but contains exemptions for very narrow instances for saving the life of a mother.

This means that many Tennesseans must cross state lines, requiring hours of travel, to secure an abortion. The closest available clinics for those in Memphis and Nashville are in Carbondale, Illinois — roughly three hours away. On the eastern side of the state, a clinic has relocated to Virginia after operating along the Tennessee border for years.

A relatively small number of abortions in the U.S. are obtained by minors. Among the 47 states that reported 2019 abortion data to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fewer than 9% of people who received abortions were 15 to 19 years old.

Meanwhile, 36 states require parental involvement in a minor’s decision to have an abortion, though most allow exceptions under certain circumstances like medical emergencies, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group supporting abortion rights.


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