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Tennessee is sued over law that criminalizes helping minors get abortions without parental approval

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Tennessee is sued over law that criminalizes helping minors get abortions without parental approval
News

News

Tennessee is sued over law that criminalizes helping minors get abortions without parental approval

2024-06-25 06:25 Last Updated At:06:32

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — As Tennessee prepares to become the second U.S. state to enact a ban against adults helping minors get an abortion without parental permission, a state Democratic lawmaker and reproductive rights activist on Monday filed a legal challenge alleging the statute is unconstitutional.

The complaint filed in federal court came on the second anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that had guaranteed a constitutional right to abortion. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Democratic Rep. Aftyn Behn and Nashville attorney Rachel Welty.

“Two years ago today, I vowed to aid and abet abortion always, to not give up despite the overturn of Roe v. Wade, and to fight," Welty, a longtime abortion access advocate, said in a statement. “I need to stand up for other advocates around the state who should not have to live in fear of civil or criminal penalties for disseminating information about routine healthcare.”

Earlier this year, Tennessee's GOP-controlled Statehouse signed off on a proposal making it illegal for an adult who “intentionally recruits, harbors, or transports” a pregnant minor within the state to get an abortion without consent from the minor’s parents or guardians. Those convicted of breaking the law would be charged with a Class A misdemeanor, which requires a nearly one-year jail sentence.

The law, which goes into effect July 1, does not contain exemptions for minors who may have been raped by their parents or guardians. Instead, the statute says a biological father who raped the minor and caused the pregnancy can't pursue a civil action.

The Tennessee law mimics the so-called “ abortion trafficking ” law enacted in Idaho last year, but a federal judge has since temporarily blocked that state's statute after reproductive rights groups sued to challenge it.

The lawsuit filed Monday names 11 district attorneys who work in middle Tennessee as the defendants, alleging that they all ignored Welty’s previous requests to define what behavior would be deemed illegal under the new law.

A spokesperson for the attorney general's office, which represents the state in constitutional lawsuits, did not immediately return an emailed request for comment.

According to the lawsuit, Welty and Behn argue that the law is “unconstitutionally vague,” pointing out that the word “recruits" is undefined. They also argue that the statute criminalizes certain speech in violation of the First Amendment.

“The law was intended to scare Tennesseans from helping each other when they need it the most," Behn and Welty said in a joint statement. “It’s not working. We’ll still be here supporting each other, loving folks who’ve had abortions, and providing people with key information about their options.”

Notably, while Tennessee lawmakers were debating the legislation on the House floor, the Republican bill sponsor specifically referred to Behn’s previous public promise to help any young person travel out of state if they needed an abortion.

“Unfortunately, there’s even a member of this body that recently tweeted out, ‘I welcome the opportunity to take a young person out of state who wants to have an abortion, even if it lands me in jail,'” Rep. Jason Zachary said in April, adding “that is what recruitment looks like.”

Zachary and others have defended the law as needed to protect parental rights, pointing to a lawsuit filed earlier this year by Missouri’s attorney general, Andrew Bailey.

Bailey, a Republican, has accused Planned Parenthood of illegally taking minors from Missouri into Kansas to obtain abortions without parental consent. The lawsuit, based on a video from a conservative group that has promoted false claims on other issues, asks a state district court to stop Planned Parenthood from engaging in the conduct alleged in the complaint.

Tennessee bans abortions at all stages of pregnancy, but there are exemptions in cases of molar pregnancies, ectopic pregnancies, and to remove a miscarriage or to save the life of the mother. Notably, doctors must use their “reasonable medical” judgment — a term that some say is too vague and can be challenged by fellow medical officials — in deciding whether providing the procedure can save the life of the pregnant patient or prevent major injury.

A group of women is currently suing to clarify the state’s abortion ban. A court decision is expected soon on whether the lawsuit can continue or if the law can be placed on hold as the legal battle continues.

FILE - Rep. Aftyn Behn, D-Nashville, talks on a bill brought to the House floor April 15, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. Behn and Rachel Welty, a reproductive rights activist, filed a lawsuit Monday, June 24, 2024, challenging a state statute banning adults from helping minors get an abortion without parental permission. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski, File)

FILE - Rep. Aftyn Behn, D-Nashville, talks on a bill brought to the House floor April 15, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. Behn and Rachel Welty, a reproductive rights activist, filed a lawsuit Monday, June 24, 2024, challenging a state statute banning adults from helping minors get an abortion without parental permission. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski, File)

FILE - An abortion-rights demonstrator holds a sign during a rally, May 14, 2022, in Chattanooga, Tenn. Rep. Aftyn Behn and Nashville attorney Rachel Welty filed a lawsuit Monday, June 24, 2024, challenging a state statute banning adults from helping minors get an abortion without parental permission. (AP Photo/Ben Margot, File)

FILE - An abortion-rights demonstrator holds a sign during a rally, May 14, 2022, in Chattanooga, Tenn. Rep. Aftyn Behn and Nashville attorney Rachel Welty filed a lawsuit Monday, June 24, 2024, challenging a state statute banning adults from helping minors get an abortion without parental permission. (AP Photo/Ben Margot, File)

MIDDLETOWN, Ohio (AP) — Republican vice presidential nominee JD Vance will make his first solo appearances on the campaign trail Monday, a day after the 2024 presidential race was thrown into upheaval as President Joe Biden dropped out of the race, leaving the Democratic candidate an open question.

Vance, an Ohio senator, is scheduled to hold a rally in his hometown of Middletown, followed by an evening event in Radford, Virginia, fresh off his rally debut with Donald Trump over the weekend.

Vance had been expected to eventually face Vice President Kamala Harris in a debate. But with Biden dropping out and the Democratic ticket unsettled, the senator is following Trump’s lead and focusing on attacking Biden and Harris jointly.

“President Trump and I are ready to save America, whoever’s at the top of the Democrat ticket,” Vance said Sunday in a post on X. “Bring it on.”

Trump’s campaign plans to use Vance, who became the GOP vice presidential nominee last week, in Rust Belt states that are seen as pivotal for Democrats’ path to the White House, including Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, and places where the senator’s blue collar roots and populist views are expected to resonate.

Middletown, between Cincinnati and Dayton, is considered to be part of the Rust Belt. Using it as the location for his first solo event as the vice presidential nominee not only allows Vance to lean into his biography, which he laid out in his bestselling memoir “Hillbilly Elegy,” but it gives the campaign a chance to establish a fresh groundswell in a former swing state that has been trending Republican.

While Republicans promoted a unifying message last week and decried inflammatory language in the wake of the assassination attempt against Trump, one of the first speakers to introduce Vance at the rally suggested the country may need to come to civil war if Trump loses in November.

“I believe wholeheartedly, Donald Trump and Butler County’s JD Vance are the last chance to save our country,” said George Lang, a Republican state senator. “Politically, I’m afraid if we lose this one, it’s going to take a civil war to save the country and it will be saved. It’s the greatest experiment in the history of mankind."

Vendors outside the event removed merchandise referencing Biden and added coffee mugs, T-shirts and other items that featured Vance.

Vance’s second stop is in a part of western Virginia that is considered a part of the Appalachia region. The campaign's decision to send Vance there also signals their confidence in their chances. Virginia is a state that had been a swing state but has gone for Democrats in every presidential election since 2008.

In his speech at the Republican National Convention last week introducing himself to America, Vance spoke about “forgotten communities” where “jobs were sent overseas and children were sent to war.”

The 39-year-old Republican also leaned into his relative youth, contrasting Biden’s decades in government with the milestones in his own life. It’s not clear how Vance will shift his message toward Harris, whom many Democrats were lining up to support, or any other contender for the nomination.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, who is seen as a potential Democratic vice presidential candidate, made a point of criticizing Vance for the way he has portrayed Kentucky and the region.

Vance was raised by his grandparents in Middletown, which is not in Appalachia, but spent a significant amount of time traveling to Kentucky with his grandparents to visit family. The senator has said he hopes to be buried in a small mountain cemetery there.

“He ain’t from here,” Beshear told The Associated Press.

The governor took issue with Vance's portrayals in his book of people in Kentucky and eastern Kentucky and suggestions that they were lazy or not motivated to work.

“You don’t get to just come in eastern Kentucky a couple of times in the summer and then maybe for weddings and a funeral and cast judgment on us. It’s offensive,” Beshear said.

Despite his presence on the primetime debate stage and his bestselling book, Vance is still working to introduce himself to voters.

A CNN poll conducted in late June found the majority of registered voters had never heard of Vance or had no opinion of him. Just 13% of registered voters said they had a favorable opinion of Vance and 20% had an unfavorable one, according to the poll.

After Vance was named as Trump’s running mate, a startling number of Republican delegates, who are typically party insiders and activists, said they didn’t know much about the senator.

In his hometown in Ohio, though, he was welcomed as a local star.

Zetta Davidson, 73, a longtime poll worker from Fairborn, Ohio, called it “a wonderful move” for Trump to pick Vance. “I think he’s honest, straightforward, and if it’s not right, he’ll rip it apart,” she said.

A 72-year-old retiree from Middletown, Randy Linville, called Vance an “excellent choice."

“No. 1, he’s young,” Linville said. "Mr. Trump is not that old, but he’s getting up there.”

Vance has served in the Senate for less than two years. He has morphed from being a harsh Trump critic, at one point likening him to Hitler, to becoming a staunch defender of the former president, hitting the campaign trail on his behalf and even joining him at his Manhattan criminal trial this summer.

Price reported from New York. Associated Press writer Bruce Schreiner in Louisville, Kentucky, contributed to this report.

Follow the AP’s coverage of the 2024 election at https://apnews.com/hub/election-2024

This story has been corrected to reflect that state Sen. George Lang said Butler County, not Booker County, when referring to JD Vance.

Attendees wait in line to attend a campaign rally for Republican vice presidential candidate Sen. JD Vance, R-Ohio, at Middletown High School, Monday, July 22, 2024, in Middletown, Ohio. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson)

Attendees wait in line to attend a campaign rally for Republican vice presidential candidate Sen. JD Vance, R-Ohio, at Middletown High School, Monday, July 22, 2024, in Middletown, Ohio. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson)

Police snipers stand atop Middletown High School before Republican vice presidential candidate Sen. JD Vance, R-Ohio, speaks at a campaign rally, Monday, July 22, 2024, in Middletown, Ohio. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson)

Police snipers stand atop Middletown High School before Republican vice presidential candidate Sen. JD Vance, R-Ohio, speaks at a campaign rally, Monday, July 22, 2024, in Middletown, Ohio. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson)

Supporters wait in line to attend a campaign rally for Republican vice presidential candidate Sen. JD Vance, R-Ohio, at Middletown High School, Monday, July 22, 2024, in Middletown, Ohio. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson)

Supporters wait in line to attend a campaign rally for Republican vice presidential candidate Sen. JD Vance, R-Ohio, at Middletown High School, Monday, July 22, 2024, in Middletown, Ohio. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson)

Members of the police department look on at a campaign rally for Republican vice presidential candidate Sen. JD Vance, R-Ohio, at Middletown High School, Monday, July 22, 2024, in Middletown, Ohio. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson)

Members of the police department look on at a campaign rally for Republican vice presidential candidate Sen. JD Vance, R-Ohio, at Middletown High School, Monday, July 22, 2024, in Middletown, Ohio. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson)

Police snipers stand atop Middletown High School as supporters arrive to attend a campaign rally with Republican vice presidential candidate Sen. JD Vance, R-Ohio, Monday, July 22, 2024, in Middletown, Ohio. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson)

Police snipers stand atop Middletown High School as supporters arrive to attend a campaign rally with Republican vice presidential candidate Sen. JD Vance, R-Ohio, Monday, July 22, 2024, in Middletown, Ohio. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson)

A cardboard cutout of former first lady Melania Trump appears as supporters arrive at a campaign rally for Republican vice presidential candidate Sen. JD Vance, R-Ohio, at Middletown High School, Monday, July 22, 2024, in Middletown, Ohio. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson)

A cardboard cutout of former first lady Melania Trump appears as supporters arrive at a campaign rally for Republican vice presidential candidate Sen. JD Vance, R-Ohio, at Middletown High School, Monday, July 22, 2024, in Middletown, Ohio. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson)

Supporters arrive at a campaign rally for Republican vice presidential candidate Sen. JD Vance, R-Ohio, at Middletown High School, Monday, July 22, 2024, in Middletown, Ohio. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson)

Supporters arrive at a campaign rally for Republican vice presidential candidate Sen. JD Vance, R-Ohio, at Middletown High School, Monday, July 22, 2024, in Middletown, Ohio. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson)

Republican vice presidential candidate Sen. JD Vance, R-Ohio, arrives to speak at a campaign event with Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump, Saturday, July 20, 2024, at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, Mich. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Republican vice presidential candidate Sen. JD Vance, R-Ohio, arrives to speak at a campaign event with Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump, Saturday, July 20, 2024, at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, Mich. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

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