Tennessee Is the Latest State to Try and Criminalize People for Helping Minors Get Abortion Care

Among the multiple, fearmongering issues is the fact that the so-called “abortion trafficking” bill doesn't offer exceptions for victims of child sexual abuse.

Tennessee Is the Latest State to Try and Criminalize People for Helping Minors Get Abortion Care

On Wednesday, the Tennessee Senate passed a bill to make it illegal to help minors travel out-of-state for abortion care without parental consent. The so-called “abortion trafficking” bill, which now advances to the state House, doesn’t offer exemptions for minors who might have been raped by their parents or guardians.

The Senate bill states that an adult who “recruits, harbors, or transports a pregnant unemancipated minor within this state for the purpose of” helping them access “criminal abortion” has committed “the offense of abortion trafficking of a minor.” The bill establishes that those convicted of breaking the law would be charged with a Class A misdemeanor carrying a one-year imprisonment sentence. Meanwhile, a version of this bill in the state House treats violations as a Class C felony which can carry up to a 15-year prison sentence and up to $10,000 in fines.

Tennessee is one of several states that are currently considering fearmongering “abortion trafficking” legislation, including Oklahoma and Mississippi. Idaho enacted a similar bill in 2023, but within months, a federal judge temporarily blocked it.

Opponents of Tennessee’s bill have raised particular issue with how it targets potential victims of child sexual abuse. “There are people who are in situations and circumstances that we cannot fathom,” Democratic state Sen. Raumesh Akbari said in response to the bill’s passage. “If someone is a victim of rape or incest and a teenager, and they want to seek these services, their abusers can determine if they can access them. That’s a step too far.”

In January, Tennessee state Rep. Jason Zachary (R) said his bill doesn’t target parents who help their children travel for abortion care. But advocates and legal experts pointed out the bill could still target and imprison aunts, grandparents, and other adult loved ones who try to help a child end an unwanted pregnancy. In a press release earlier this year, Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi pointed out that “abortion trafficking” laws also target minors who may not have supportive relationships with their parents: “Most minors involve a parent in their decision to get an abortion. But for young people living in abusive households, disclosing sexual activity or pregnancy can trigger physical or emotional abuse, including direct physical or sexual violence, or being thrown out of the home,” Ashley Coffield, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi, said. 

She continued, “This bill makes criminals out of trusted adults, including other family members, who can help in these circumstances. … Targeting trusted adults, family members, and helpers who assist minors in accessing abortion will have a chilling effect and is dangerous and irresponsible. If you know a minor who miscarries, you’re a potential suspect.”

Minors who aren’t able to turn to their parents for help getting an abortion are often “in very precarious, vulnerable positions at home,” Kiki Council, an attorney who helps minors travel out-of-state for abortion care without parental consent, told Jezebel last year.

Other legal experts have warned that while this Tennessee bill and others like it only explicitly relate to minors, they’re part of a broader strategy to restrict and eventually ban abortion-related interstate travel altogether. “Their goal has always been to stop everyone, nationwide, from getting abortion, and put this vital health care out of reach full-stop,” Andrew Beck, senior attorney at the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project, told Jezebel last year when Idaho enacted its abortion trafficking bill. Elisabeth Smith, state policy director at the Center for Reproductive Rights, likened the Idaho bill to legislation policing even the dissemination of information about abortion. The goal of these laws, she explained, is to fully trap people under their state’s abortion bans.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin