(Reuters) - Tennessee lawmakers passed one of the tightest abortion restrictions in the country on Friday, banning the procedure once a fetal heartbeat is detected at around six weeks, which is often before a woman realizes she is pregnant.
The “heartbeat” bill follows a wave of similar strict anti-abortion measures passed by Republican-majority legislatures in an effort to prompt the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 case that guarantees a woman’s constitutional right to abortion.
In the last two years, federal judges have struck down “fetal heartbeat” laws banning abortion after six weeks in several states on the grounds that they were unconstitutional.
Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, a Republican, applauded the passage of the bill, saying in a Twitter post on Friday it is “the strongest pro-life law in our state’s history.”
The governor must sign the legislation for it to take effect.
The American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Reproductive Rights and women’s health provider Planned Parenthood filed a joint lawsuit in federal court on Friday challenging the bill.
“The Tennessee General Assembly’s passage of this dangerous, flatly unconstitutional bill is unacceptable,” Hedy Weinberg, executive director of ACLU-Tennessee, said in a statement. “Politicians should not be deciding what is best for women and certainly not making reproductive health care decisions for them.”
The bill makes it a felony for health providers to perform abortions after six weeks. It makes exceptions for life-saving abortions performed prior to six weeks, but does not exempt cases of rape or incest.
Abortion is one of the most polarizing issues in U.S. society. Opponents cite religious beliefs about the sanctity of life, while abortion rights activists say that restrictions rob women of control over their bodies and futures.
Reporting by Gabriella Borter; Editing by Frances Kerry and Daniel Wallis