'No room for grace:' Tennessee doctors could face prison time in abortion cases

TN State Capitol hill
Posted at 6:13 PM, Aug 24, 2022

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — On Thursday, abortions will be banned in Tennessee, and doctors could go to prison if they perform one.

Abortion rights supporters like Gayle Geeter are livid about the state's ban. She said Tennessee's trigger law will impact minority communities the most.

"Black women tend to be the head of households, so we have households falling apart because of a racist health care system," Geeter said.

Dr. Amy Bono is with the group Protect My Care. They believe that banning abortion will be bad for doctors and their patients.

"When things are this extreme, there is no room for grace,” Bono said. “That feels wrong."

Dr. Bono said some doctors now feel like they have a target on their backs.

“I’m confused about the legislative intent because patients are scared,” Bono said. “Doctors are scared.”

There's been some confusion over just what the new law does, so NewsChannel 5 asked attorney David Raybin. He's advising doctors not to perform an abortion unless they can prove they did it to save the mother's life.

"This is not an exception. This an affirmative defense that the doctor has to prove to the satisfaction of the jury by a preponderance of the evidence," Raybin said.

If convicted, doctors face three to six years in prison, and they would likely lose their license.

"Under the law, you’re eligible for probation I suppose, but who the heck wants to be a convicted felon for the rest of their life for doing this?" Raybin said.

Tennessee Right to Life is an anti-abortion group that’s been fighting to ban abortion.

"Tennesseans have been waiting nearly 50 years," said vice president Angela Maden.

She said their next step is making sure the trigger ban is enforced. Meanwhile, some lawmakers want to introduce a bill that would create an exception for incest and rape. Maden said they do not support that.

"That little one is just as much human as you or I are, and so, no. We would not support an exception for rape," Maden said.

Meanwhile, Geeter is worried about women and the future of reproductive health.

"I believe that abortion banning is the tip of the iceberg. As a Black woman that chose to have children and almost died to have children, I have been the victim of a racist health care system, and I understand what this means for women of color," Geeter said.

As of Aug. 24, it’s still legal to travel from Tennessee to another state for an abortion.