Nashville, TN (TN Tribune) – On April 23rd, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals allowed a 48-hour mandatory waiting period to take effect immediately in Tennessee. Patients at health centers at the time of the ruling were immediately blocked from obtaining an abortion.
This restriction will make abortion harder to access for all patients, especially those who already face barriers to health care. The full Sixth Circuit granted the state of Tennessee’s request to suspend a lower court’s decision striking down the 48-hour waiting period while the state’s appeal remains pending. The order comes after a three-judge panel of the appellate court denied the state’s request in February. The Tennessee law requires patients to make two trips to a provider and wait at least two days to access abortion services after receiving in-person, state-mandated biased counseling. A federal district court struck down the law in October 2020.
In that decision, federal district court Judge Bernard Friedman wrote, “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.”
“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 for Reproductive Rights. “Not only is this law condescending and demeaning, it also needlessly endangers patients by forcing them to make additional, unnecessary trips to a clinic in the middle of a global pandemic.”
“Allowing this law to go into effect and forcing patients to delay abortion services does nothing for their health. All it does is push a medically unnecessary restriction meant to shame and stigmatize patients for their personal medical decisions,” said Ashley Coffield, president & CEO, Planned Parenthood Tennessee and North Mississippi. “Gov. Lee is wrong. Abortion is health care. He is ignoring the vital health needs of Tennesseans to score political points. Planned Parenthood is committed to fighting this harmful law in every way possible and ensuring patients have access to the timely abortion services they need and deserve.”
Other waiting periods have been passed in more than 25 states. These laws have particularly harsh consequences for those who already face systemic barriers to comprehensive reproductive health care — including individuals with low incomes, people of color, people living in rural areas, and individuals in abusive relationships — which are compounded by the mandatory delay and two-trip requirement.
In 2020, Tennessee passed a sweeping anti-abortion law — the most comprehensive attack on abortion passed by any state that year. The law bans abortion based on a person’s reason for seeking the abortion, such as a Down syndrome diagnosis. The law also bans abortion entirely at every stage of pregnancy, starting as early as six weeks. The latter part of the law is currently blocked through another lawsuit filed by the Center, Planned Parenthood, and the ACLU.
The case challenging Tennessee’s mandatory waiting period requirement was brought by various abortion providers in the state, represented by the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA), Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP, Barrett Johnston Martin & Garrison, LLC, and Jessee & Jessee.