A decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to hear an abortion case in Mississippi is likely to have a major impact on Tennessee’s laws.
The court will be hearing arguments over whether states have to guarantee access to abortion until the second trimester. Tennessee has been among the states arguing that’s too late.
Mississippi wants to ban abortions 15 weeks after conception, a threshold far before the one that’s been set by the courts since Roe v. Wade. Previous rulings have established that states can’t ban abortion until a fetus is viable outside the womb, around 24 weeks.
As in Mississippi, lawmakers in Tennessee have been trying to roll back the cutoff to get an abortion. At a hearing last month, lawyers for Tennessee told a federal appeals court in Cincinnati their goal is to ban abortion when a fetus might be able to perceive pain — which they claim is also about 15 weeks.
The Supreme Court is expected to hear the Mississippi case this fall, with a ruling possible a little over a year from now. If it were to allow states to ban abortion earlier than viability, abortion rights groups believe Tennessee will quickly do so.
“Lawmakers across the South, especially in Mississippi, Tennessee, and Arkansas, have been chipping away at abortion access for over a decade,” Jennifer Peppers, executive director of Choices, a reproductive health center in Memphis, said in a prepared statement. “If Roe was reversed, the consequences would be catastrophic.”
And, Tennessee’s cutoff might be even sooner. State lawmakers have already voted to ban abortion after the first sign of cardiac activity, which could occur as early as six weeks.