The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that a portion of a Tennessee pro-life law passed last June can go into effect while the parties continue their litigation over the law. The appeals court disagreed with a lower court’s decision that Tennessee’s law was too “vague” to be constitutional.

That’s a clear win for life in the 6th Circuit, which covers the states of Tennessee, Kentucky, Michigan and Ohio. But the legal battles continue.

In June, the Tennessee legislature passed the bill in question, which was then signed into law by Governor Bill Lee. The two-part law consists of a “heartbeat” portion prohibiting abortions beginning at eight weeks gestation, and the second part, called a “reason” ban, prohibits abortions based on race, gender, or Down syndrome fetal diagnosis.

The law was immediately blocked via a preliminary injunction issued by a federal district court in Tennessee when challenged by pro-abortion groups. Federal District Judge William Campbell ruled that the law was too vague to be constitutional. Campbell’s preliminary injunction was appealed by Tennessee to the 6th Circuit, which just ordered it “stayed” – i.e., blocked from going into effect – while the case proceeds to trial. That simply means that the “reason” ban portion of Tennessee’s law can be enforced by the state while the case proceeds. When the district court reaches its ultimate decision after a trial is conducted, the case will eventually return to the 6th Circuit for a further appeal.

However, the 6th Circuit’s ruling is important because it telegraphs to the lower district court that it views the Tennessee “reason” ban as clear and understandable, which should result in the lower court following the direction given to it by the appeals court, at least on the issue of “vagueness.”

Undeterred, the abortion groups who brought the lawsuit immediately went back to the lower district with a different legal theory as to why Tennessee’s “reason” ban should be blocked again. If the lower court decides to block the law this time based on this newly offered legal argument, the 6th Circuit could see another request in the near future from the state of Tennessee to intervene.

The other half of Tennessee’s law, the “heartbeat” prohibition, remains blocked by the lower court as the case continues to develop. Several states have passed heartbeat bills, which generally prohibit abortions at the point where the preborn baby’s heartbeat can be detected, typically at six to eight weeks gestation. In every case to date, courts have blocked those laws from going into effect.

The case is Memphis Center for Reproductive Health v. Slatery.

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