Tennessee passes heartbeat bill, bans abortions for babies with Down syndrome

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee announced that he will sign a bill banning abortions at the detection of a heartbeat, which is around six weeks into the pregnancy.

The state's Legislature passed the abortion bill backed by the Republican governor and opposed by Democrats as budget negotiations stalled after midnight, FOX 17 reports.

"One of the most important things we can do to be pro-family is to protect the rights of the most vulnerable in our state, and there is none more vulnerable than the unborn," Lee tweeted Friday morning.

"We have passed the strongest pro-life law in our state’s history and I am grateful to Lt. Gov McNally, Speaker Sexton, Leader Johnson, Leader Lamberth and members of our General Assembly for making the heartbeat bill law," he added.

The bill requires an ultrasound to be conducted before an abortion and would prohibit physicians to perform an abortion based on "sex, race or disability diagnosis of the unborn child."

While there is an exception for medical emergencies, there are no exceptions in the bill for women who are victims of rape or incest. Both sides claim they are protecting the health of mothers.

Though critics said it won't hold up in court, Lee claimed it was "enhanced" to be more likely to survive due to its "ladder" provision, similar to the Missouri bill, "of sequential abortion prohibitions at two-week gestational age intervals, along with severability clauses for each step of the ladder."

Planned Parenthood said the bill includes "anti-science" measures and doesn't address "actual discrimination against women and girls."

"In the dead of night, Tenessee politicians hellbent on chipping away at abortion access blocked citizens from entering the state Capitol while they used this draconian abortion ban to pass the state budget," Ashley Coffield, president & CEO, Planned Parenthood Tennessee and North Mississippi, said in a statement. "While Tennesseans are concerned about their health and safety during a pandemic, politicians used women’s lives as a bargaining chip to push their political agenda."

Around 3 a.m., lawmakers in the Volunteer State passed along party lines a $39.4 billion budget for fiscal year 2020-21.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said it plans to challenge it in court.

“The Tennessee General Assembly’s passage of this dangerous, flatly unconstitutional bill is unacceptable," Hedy Weinberg, ACLU-TN executive director, said, WBIR reports.