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Photo: Sarah Silbiger via Getty Images

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday upheld a lower court's decision to block a Tennessee law barring abortions after the detection of a "fetal heartbeat."

Why it matters: The ban, which also prohibits abortions if the justification relates to race, gender or medical diagnoses such as Down syndrome, is one of several restrictive abortion laws enacted in recent years.

Context: The measure was signed into law last year but faced a lawsuit from reproductive rights advocates shortly after. In July 2020, a lower court issued a preliminary injunction to prevent the law from taking effect.

  • Worth noting: Doctors have challenged the use of the term "fetal heartbeat," saying the sound is actually manufactured by ultrasound machines that detect electrical activity.

What they're saying: The lower court's ruling "closely follows the precedents of our circuit and those of the Supreme Court," Judge Martha Craig Daughtrey wrote in the majority opinion for the three-judge panel.

  • "Although this circuit’s recent — and alarming — decisions have broadened the extent to which the government may impede a person’s constitutional right to choose whether to carry a pregnancy to term, the law remains clear that if a regulation is a substantial obstacle to a woman seeking an abortion, it is invalid," Daughtrey wrote. 
  • Daughtrey added that that the vague statute could encourage "arbitrary enforcement." The state's failure to take other actions to prevent discrimination also undercuts "arguments that any 'interests' in equality and preventing eugenics based on race and gender are legitimate concerns."
  • "Any decision to overturn the district court’s finding of facts and well-reasoned decision would cast this court in the role of judicial activists."

Fellow Judge Amul R. Thapar affirmed the ruling but argued that Roe v. Wade should not be invoked in determining abortion access. 

  • The Supreme Court’s framework "cannot be justified under the original meaning of the Constitution. Nor can it be justified under a living constitutional approach," he said.

Abortion-rights advocates praised the ruling and emphasized their continued fight against states that restrict access.

  • "After Texas rendered the constitutional right to abortion meaningless and other states continued to attack access to care, the 6th Circuit’s decision ... brings some relief," Alexis McGill Johnson, Planned Parenthood president and CEO, said in a statement.
  • "Planned Parenthood will continue fighting alongside our partners until patients everywhere have meaningful access to the care they need when they need it, and can make their own personal decisions and determine their own futures — free of interference by politicians."

The big picture: The Justice Department is suing Texas for its controversial abortion law, which took effect in early September.

Go deeper: Here are the next states that could pass abortion bans after Texas

Go deeper

Religious groups ask Supreme Court for emergency stay on vaccine rule for U.S. companies

Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Three religious organizations on Saturday asked the Supreme Court to grant an emergency stay over the Biden administration's vaccine mandate for businesses with at least 100 workers.

Why it matters: The challenge, filed by the American Family Association, Answers in Genesis and Daystar Television Network, comes days after the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati reinstated the mandate.

Updated Dec 19, 2021 - Politics & Policy

OSHA vaccine mandate penalties will begin on Jan. 10

A health care worker administers a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a drive-thru site at Miami's Tropical Park on Dec. 16. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration said Saturday it will wait until Jan. 10 to begin issuing citations to companies that do not comply with its coronavirus vaccine mandate.

Driving the news: OSHA also said that it would not issue citations for its COVID-19 testing requirements before Feb. 9 "so long as an employer is exercising reasonable, good faith efforts to come into compliance with the standard," the agency said.

Texas abortion law remains in effect after appeals court ruling

Pro- and anti-abortion protesters outside the Supreme Court as arguments begin about the Texas abortion law on Capitol Hill in November. Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

A U.S. appeals court transferred a challenge to Texas' law banning most abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy to the state supreme court in a 2-1 vote on Monday evening.

Why it matters: The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' decision means the country's most restrictive abortion law can remain in place for the time being.