Federal Judge Strikes Down Tennessee’s Abortion Waiting Period

Oct 14, 2020


Abortion continued to be a perennial debate in the Tennessee General Assembly after voters approved an amendment to the state constitution clarifying that women did not have a right to an abortion.
Credit Chas Sisk / WPLN News (File)

Tennessee’s 48-hour waiting period for people to get abortions has been ruled unconstitutional by a federal court.

Judge Bernard Friedman found that the state could not prove that the waiting period benefits the person’s mental health, which is the purported goal.

In his opinion, he cites evidence presented during the four-day trial that most pregnant people are already certain of their decision and that post-abortion regret is uncommon.

“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,” Friedman writes.

Friedman also says that the 48-hour waiting period is a substantial burden because it requires two trips to a clinic — which can mean a long drive in Tennessee where so few abortion providers remain.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, roughly half of all states have a waiting period, though it’s usually 24 hours. Tennessee Right to Life says that Tennessee’s law was drafted to mirror similar laws, which have not been upheld by courts. So the anti-abortion group expects the state to successfully appeal.

“We have no doubt that the Sixth Circuit will swiftly overturn Judge Friedman’s ruling,” legal counsel Will Brewer says in a statement.

This is the third abortion restriction stopped by federal courts in recent weeks.

In late September, a court temporarily blocked a law from going into effect that would have required abortion providers to talk to patients about the potential to reverse an abortion.

Tennessee’s new “fetal heartbeat” law was blocked as soon as it was signed by Governor Bill Lee in July.

Tennessee’s waiting period was instituted by the state legislature in 2015 after a new constitutional amendment provided for more state-based abortion restrictions. The ruling comes as the future of abortion has emerged a key consideration in the Supreme Court confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett.

“With 17 abortion-related cases one step away from the Supreme Court — including one from Tennessee banning abortion at nearly every stage of pregnancy — it’s clear that the right to access safe, legal abortion is under attack like never before,” Planned Parenthood of Tennessee CEO Ashley Coffield says in a written statement. “We will continue to defend their right to bodily autonomy, against any politician or bill that threatens it, no matter what.”

This story was reported by WPLN