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Tennessee governor approves bill banning late-term abortions

(YouTube/GovernorBillHaslam)Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam appears in a screen capture of a video from his YouTube channel.

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has signed into a law a bill that bans abortions past the point of fetal viability.

On Friday, Haslam signed the Tennessee Infants Protection Act, which would prohibit abortions after 24 weeks and would require abortion clinics to assess whether an unborn child is viable starting at 20 weeks. Under the law, abortions would be illegal if the baby is determined to be viable at that point, according to Life News.

The law also requires doctors who perform abortions after 20 weeks to prove in court that the fetus was not viable and that the mother's life or physical health was at risk. Doctors who are found to be in violation of the law could face up to three years in prison and have their licenses revoked.

In early April, Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery described the measure "constitutionally suspect" because it places a doctor acting in good faith at risk for felony prosecution. He also questioned whether the legislation could survive a legal challenge as it lacked an exception for a woman's emotional or mental health.

He later vowed to defend the bill after it was amended to require two doctors' opinion regarding fetal viability, but it still does not include an exception for mental health risks to the pregnant woman.

"The Tennessee Attorney General has said he would defend this law, and the United States Supreme Court has not yet decided the mental health exception issue discussed in the Attorney General's opinion," said Haslam, according to WBIR. "For those reasons, I have signed this legislation into law," he added.

Doctors' groups have opposed the legislation, with the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology noting that there are no definitive tests to determine viability.

Pro-life group Tennessee Right to Life commended Haslam for his decision and the legislature for its action.

"Tennessee Right to Life thanks Governor Haslam for his demonstrated commitment to doing everything possible constitutionally to defend and protect vulnerable unborn children," said Brian Harris, the organization's president.

"His administration has been tireless in supporting common-sense measures which affirm the dignity human life in our state and pro-life Tennesseans are clearly very grateful to the Governor," he added.

The Tennessee Infant Protection Act, which is scheduled to take effect on July 1, 2017, was passed earlier this month by a vote of 27–3 in the state Senate and 69–18 in the state House.

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