The US Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay Friday of a lower court injunction that prohibited the enforcement of a Tennessee law banning abortion because of gender, race, or a Down Syndrome diagnosis.
The decision comes as part of a lawsuit filed by Tennessee abortion providers seeking to block several restrictive abortion laws signed into law earlier this year. The lower federal district court previously blocked the enforcement of two bans, the so-called “heartbeat” ban, which would prohibit abortions after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, and the “reasons” ban, which would prohibit abortions because of gender, race, or Down Syndrome diagnosis of the fetus. Friday’s appellate court decision concerned only the “reasons” ban law.
The district court had enjoined the “reasons” ban because it found the statute unconstitutionally vague concerning the definitions of the terms “knows” and “because of” in the statute. Two of the three judges on the Sixth Circuit panel disagreed with the conclusions of the district court, finding that the term “knowing” is defined elsewhere in the statute, and that the ordinary meaning of the phrase “because of” is clear enough that “the statute’s failure to define the term will not render the statute void for vagueness.” In a dissent, Judge Clay not only disagreed with the majority’s conclusion, but he also pointed out that the Tennessee ban imposes an undue burden on a woman’s right to seek an abortion, which “runs afoul” of the holding of Planned Parenthood of Southeast Pennsylvania v. Casey, as well as the more recent Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt and June Medical Services v. Russo cases.
Late Friday, the plaintiffs in the case filed a new request in district court for an injunction of the ban, this time arguing that the law unconstitutionally obstructs a woman from obtaining protected abortion care.