Court upholds 48-hour abortion waiting period in Tennessee

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a district court’s decision striking down a 48-hour mandatory waiting period for abortions in Tennessee, meaning women seeking an abortion must wait two days after their initial appointment.  

Tennessee’s 48-hour waiting period began in 2015. Since then, the Center for Reproductive Rights and Planned Parenthood Federation of America has taken the law to court, questioning its constitutionality. In October of 2020, the law was struck down in court, but once again took effect in April of 2021 as ordered by the Sixth Circuit Court.  

The law requires patients to make two trips to a provider and undergo state-mandated counseling.  

In a statement, the Center for Reproductive Rights said the law made abortion access harder for Tennesseans. 

“Today’s decision completely ignores the trial court’s clear finding that this law imposes extreme burdens on Tennesseans seeking abortion,” said Nancy Northup, president & CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “With this law, politicians are purporting they know better than patients when it comes to making personal decisions about their health care. It’s demeaning and medically unnecessary.” 

Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO, Planned Parenthood Federation of America said the law violates patients’ constitutional rights. 

“Instead of focusing their attention on the health of residents, Tennessee’s leaders are chipping away at the protections under Roe v. Wade, further stigmatizing patients, and making abortion even harder to access,” McGill Johnson said. “Planned Parenthood will continue fighting alongside our partners to ensure every person can access safe, legal abortion services — without medically unnecessary barriers. This isn’t over.”

 Tennessee Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery released a statement on the court’s decision.

“The Sixth Circuit’s decision is gratifying for several reasons,” said Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery III. “First, the result: a law passed by our representative lawmakers and signed by the Governor five years ago—yes, five years ago—is constitutional. It has been on the books a long time. The Court concluded that, during this time, the 48-hour waiting period has not been a substantial obstacle to getting an abortion in Tennessee. Second, the opinion was a reasoned analysis of the law and the lack of proof offered by the plaintiffs, rather than a decision based on policy. Also, this ruling comes after the full Court reconsidered an earlier decision by a three-judge panel of the same Court,” Slatery said in the statement.

The Alliance Defending Freedom released a statement supporting the court’s decision.  

“Every woman should have the information she needs to make the healthiest choice for everyone involved in a pregnancy,” said Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Denise Harle. “Many women resort to abortion because they feel it is their only choice and then regret the decision for years to come. As the 6th Circuit held, the Supreme Court has already recognized that state governments have the constitutional authority to provide women contemplating abortions the opportunity to receive crucially important information before such a life-changing procedure is performed. Tennessee’s law is a commonsense, compassionate, and constitutional statute that protects women, and the 6th Circuit reached the right result in upholding it.” 

Tennessee Right to Life defended the need for counseling for women seeking an abortion.

“We thank the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals for hearing this case and for affirming the voice of Tennessee voters,” said Stacy Dunn, President of Tennessee Right to Life. “We have felt all along that this was a common sense law that gave women time for thoughtful consideration of a procedure that ends a human life and causes severe emotional harm to the mother. We are glad that view was upheld by the Sixth Circuit today.”

According to the Guttmacher Institute, 26 states require counseling and wait times for patients seeking abortions, most of which are 24-hour waiting periods.    

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