Appeals court reinstates Tennessee abortion waiting period
Published 5:30 pm Monday, April 26, 2021
NASHVILLE (AP) — A federal appeals court has reinstated a 48-hour waiting period for women seeking abortions in Tennessee as the state appeals a judge’s ruling in the case.
The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued its ruling Friday in a case that stems from a challenge to a 2015 law in Tennessee that required women to make two trips to an abortion clinic — first for mandatory counseling and then for the abortion at least 48 hours later.
Directors of Tennessee abortion clinics testified at a 2019 trial that the two-visit requirement posed logistical challenges that caused abortions to be delayed far beyond the 48 hours required by law. The delay pushed some women beyond the time when they could have medication abortions, which have lower risks of complications than surgical abortions. A few women were pushed beyond the time when they could receive an abortion altogether.
U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman ruled in October that Tennessee’s waiting period law serves no legitimate purpose while placing a substantial burden on women who seek abortions in the state.
In February, a three-judge panel of the appeals court upheld Friedman’s decision. Tennessee had asked the appeals court to set aside Friedman’s ruling until the state’s appeal is resolved. The state had argued that Friedman erred in balancing the law’s benefits with its burdens, applying the wrong legal standard.
Friday’s appeals court ruling puts the waiting period back in effect. Patients at health centers at the time of the ruling were immediately blocked from obtaining an abortion, and the restriction will make abortions harder to get moving forward, said a statement from Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights.
“Because of this ruling, patients in waiting rooms across Tennessee right now are being sent home. Patients do not need a state-mandated ‘time out’ before accessing abortion care or any other type of health care,” said Autumn Katz, senior counsel at the center.
Other waiting periods have been passed in more than 25 states, the groups said.
Tennessee Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery III said he thinks the waiting period is likely constitutional.
“The Supreme Court has recognized the authority of State governments to provide women considering abortion the opportunity to receive important information before a life-changing decision is made,” Slatery said in a statement.