Tennessee Abortion Law Requiring 48-Hour Waiting Period Struck Down

Tennessee Abortion Law Requiring 48-Hour Waiting Period Struck Down
An ultrasound machine sits next to an exam table in an examination room at abortion provider Whole Woman's Health of South Bend in South Bend, Indiana, on June 19, 2019. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Isabel van Brugen

A federal judge on Oct. 14 struck down a law in Tennessee that required women seeking abortions in the state to undergo a 48-hour waiting period, calling it "gratuitously demeaning."

The law, which went into effect in 2015, required women to receive in-person counseling from abortion providers and wait at least two days before having an abortion.

The legislation said the waiting period was “to ensure that a consent for an abortion is truly informed consent." It said that "no abortion may be performed or induced upon a pregnant woman unless she has first been informed orally and in person by the attending physician who is to perform the abortion, or by the referring physician, of the following facts and has signed a consent form acknowledging that she has been informed."

The law was challenged by several organizations, including the Center for Reproductive Rights and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA).

U.S. District Court Judge Bernard Friedman wrote in his decision that the law “imposes numerous burdens that, taken together, place women’s physical and psychological health and well-being at risk.”

“The burdens especially affect low-income women, who comprise the vast majority of those seeking an abortion,” Friedman said.

“Defendants’ suggestion that women are overly emotional and must be required to cool off or calm down before having a medical procedure they have decided they want to have, and that they are constitutionally entitled to have, is highly insulting and paternalistic—and all the more so given that no such waiting periods apply to men.

“It is apparent that this waiting period unduly burdens women’s right to an abortion and is an affront to their ‘dignity and autonomy,’ ‘personhood’ and ‘destiny,’ and ‘conception of ... [their] place in society.’”

Samantha Fisher, a spokeswoman for Tennessee’s attorney general, said the office was disappointed by the ruling.

“We are disappointed in the ruling that comes a full year after the trial and 5 years after the law was passed by our elected representatives,” she said in a statement to news outlets on Oct. 14. “We are evaluating next steps, including appealing the order.”

Brian Harris, president of Tennessee Right to Life, said the judge's decision is a "slap at Tennessee’s abortion-vulnerable women" and "an affront to Tennessee’s voters who passed a 2014 constitutional amendment in which allowing a short waiting period was a key factor."

"Our organization remains committed to seeing a similar statute drafted and enforced during the next legislative session," he said in a statement.

Will Brewer, legal counsel and legislative liaison for Tennessee Right to Life, said in a statement: "This waiting period law was drafted in consultation with nationally renowned legal scholars in order to mirror similar laws across the country. We have no doubt that the Sixth Circuit will swiftly overturn Judge Friedman’s ruling."

The pro-life group noted that during court hearings in 2019, Dr. Priscilla Coleman, Bowling Green State University professor of human development and family studies, testified that 25 to 40 percent of women seeking an abortion arrive at the facility undecided. Coleman said that her research found that information and time benefit women.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, roughly half of U.S. states require women seeking an abortion to undergo a waiting period before proceeding.

The Center for Reproductive Rights said on Oct. 14 that it is also challenging similar laws in Arizona, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Oklahoma.

Mimi Nguyen Ly and Reuters contributed to this report.
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