'Prosecution of doctors imminent' under new Tennessee abortion law, legal experts say

APTOPIX Supreme Court Abortion
Posted at 2:41 PM, Jun 27, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-27 19:19:54-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF)  — The ruling of the Supreme Court of the United States reversing Roe v. Wade will make abortions effectively illegal in Tennessee.

There's little doubt the landmark decision will cause a vast ripple effect here in Tennessee.

There still are a great many questions to be answered, including who exactly can be prosecuted for an abortion.

Fifty years of legal precedent reversed by the Supreme Court does not come without challenges.

Abortion is now an issue for the states and in Tennessee. The Human Life Protection Act makes the procedure illegal with only one exception: if the pregnancy places the mother's health in danger.

But, what does that really mean?

The law — which takes effect next month — focuses on doctors who perform abortions.

A conviction is a Class C felony punishable by three to fifteen years.

Constitutional attorney David Raybin said the threat of prosecution will end abortion in the state.

"Chilling is an understatement — they just aren't going to do it. The criminal prosecution of doctors and health care providers is imminent," Raybin said.

Tennessee law does not criminalize women who have abortions, but that does not mean they can't be prosecuted.

In fact, the women could be charged with conspiracy or solicitation for seeking an abortion.

And Raybin said that with abortion being illegal, the father of a child could now sue a doctor or mother for performing the procedure.

"That is very possible in this situation," he said.

But how realistic is any prosecution for abortion under the law?

To do so will require an investigation, a grand jury indictment and then a trial seeking a jury of twelve to all agree on such a controversial issue.

"I don't know that a jury would convict people. This law could be practically unenforceable," said Raybin.

But that may be beside the point.

The chill factor: a threat of prosecution alone may be enough.

"I think the law's so broad and has criminal prosecution, that doctors will be deterred — which is what it's designed to do — from performing abortions," said Raybin.

Some may well defy the law, and there will be legal challenges in the state on privacy issues.

But to date, the Tennessee Supreme Court has ruled pretty much in line with what is issued from the federal level.

A "trigger ban" law in Tennessee enacts a near-total ban on abortion within 30 days of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Many clinics across the state have said they are no longer scheduling future appointments.