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Tennessee Joins Arkansas’ Legal Battle to Prohibit Abortions Based on Down Syndrome Diagnosis



ARKANSAS – Thursday, Tennessee joined 19 other states to support Arkansas’ legal fight for its law banning discriminatory abortion based on a Down syndrome diagnosis. Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery III announced the decision on Thursday – the same day that Missouri filed the amicus brief for the case, Leslie Rutledge v. Little Rock Planning Services.

“People with Down syndrome add unique joy, beauty, and diversity to our society. Yet the abortion of children with Down syndrome approaches genocidal levels, threatening the Down syndrome community with complete elimination,” asserted the brief. “All states share Arkansas’ compelling interests in preventing the eradication of people with Down syndrome through the practice of eugenic abortion.”

Slatery cited Tennessee’s own law prohibiting discriminatory abortions based on Down syndrome diagnoses, which Governor Bill Lee called “reason bans,” as a motive for joining the case.

“Our support of Arkansas’ law is consistent with the defense of similar legislation in our own state,” said Slatery. “We share a compelling interest in affirming the value and dignity of individuals with Down syndrome and preventing abortion from being used to discriminate against and eliminate this important community.”

Pro-abortion groups are currently challenging the Tennessee ban in court – popularly known as the “heartbeat bill.” The challenged law also bans abortions based on the unborn child’s sex or race. In November, a federal appeals court ruled that Tennessee could continue to enforce the ban on discriminatory abortions based on a Down syndrome diagnosis while litigation continues.

The Tennessee Star inquired with the attorney general’s office how other similar cases in recent years might influence this case. Ohio and Indiana have both faced legal battles over their laws banning discriminatory abortions; a federal appeals courts upheld Ohio’s law in April, but the Supreme Court struck down Indiana’s law in 2019. Spokespersons with the attorney general’s office said that they couldn’t offer comment beyond what is available in court documents. However, they confirmed that the Ohio law and Tennessee law are similar.

The amicus brief outlined eight specific compelling interests in this case, reproduced below:

  1. Protecting the entire class of persons with Down syndrome from being targeted for elimination solely because of disability;
  2. Eradicating historical animus and bias against persons with Down syndrome;
  3. Safeguarding the integrity of the medical profession by preventing doctors from abandoning their traditional role as healers to become the killers of disabled populations;
  4. Drawing a clear boundary against additional eugenic practices targeted at disabled persons and others;
  5. Countering the stigma that eugenic abortion currently imposes on persons with disabilities;
  6. Ensuring that the existing Down syndrome community does not become starved of resources for research and care for individuals with Down syndrome;
  7. Protecting against the devaluation of all human life inherent in any decision to target a person for elimination based on an immutable characteristic; and
  8. Fostering the diversity of society and protecting society from the incalculable loss that would occur if people with Down syndrome were eliminated.

The state attorneys general involved in the case represent Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, and Utah.