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VOL. 46 | NO. 44 | Friday, November 4, 2022

AG: Disposing embryos outside uterus not against Tenn. law

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NASHVILLE (AP) — Tennessee's strict abortion ban does not apply to the disposal of fertilized human embryos that haven't been transferred to a uterus, according to a recent state attorney general opinion.

The determination is among the first issued by an attorney general that provides insight on how laws heavily restricting abortion affect those seeking in vitro fertilization, or IVF, since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to abortion.

"Disposing of an embryo that was created outside a woman's body and that has never been transferred to a woman's body thus does not qualify as 'abortion,'" Jonathan Skrmetti wrote in his opinion.

The two-page document was quietly published on the attorney general's website on Oct. 20 at the request of Tennessee's Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson, a Republican currently seeking reelection.

Until then, like most states that recently enacted harsh abortion bans, the attorney general's office had not provided guidance on enforcing Tennessee's so-called trigger law. Unlike many states' abortions bans, including the one in Texas, Tennessee's law does not explicitly exempt abortions performed to save a mother's life. Instead, doctors are required, if charged, to convince a criminal court that an abortion was needed to save the mother's life or avoid a serious risk of impairing a major bodily function of the pregnant woman.

In a statement, Johnson said a constituent who was undergoing IVF treatment reached out to him confused over the trigger law.

"While I felt that the law was clear and that it did not apply to this particular case and others like it, I was more than happy to ask the Attorney General for his opinion to clear up any perceived misunderstandings in the law and was pleased that the Attorney General arrived at the same conclusion," Johnson said.

While Skrmetti's opinion clarifies the disposal of unused embryos, it remains unclear if the law applies to the selective reduction process sometimes used to remove a fetus from a woman's womb if fertility treatments result in multiple pregnancies.

A spokesperson for the attorney general's office did not immediately respond to comment Friday.

Earlier this year, a Tennessee woman went viral after publishing a video detailing an emailed back-and-forth conversation with Republican state Rep. Ryan Williams over the disposal of human embryos.

Williams initially wrote that "life does begin at conception either in the womb or in the IVF clinic," and that doctors who discard those embryos would be a violation of state law — a punishment that carries a felony conviction and $10,000 fine.

Williams told The Associated Press he has since met with several attorneys and now says his interpretation of the law was incorrect.

He provided an email showing that he emailed the woman back to "extend his sincerest apologies" surrounding his original response.

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