Federal Court Strikes Down Tennessee Abortion Waiting Period Law

A Ronald Reagan nominee, Judge Bernard Friedman, of U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, Nashville Division, wrote that the mandatory waiting period is unconstitutional:

The evidence clearly shows that almost all women are quite certain of their decisions by the time they appear for their first appointment and that they do not benefit, emotionally or otherwise, from being required to wait before undergoing the procedure.

Friedman continued the law’s proponents did not show it served the purpose of “protecting fetal life or benefitting women’s mental and emotional health”:

Fetal life is not protected because there is no evidence that patients who do not return to an abortion provider for the second appointment (i.e., for the procedure) fail to do so because the challenged statute causes them to change their minds about having an abortion. And women’s mental and emotional health is not benefited because the mandatory waiting period does nothing to increase the decisional certainty among women contemplating having an abortion. Further, the evidence demonstrates that at least 95% of women are certain of their decisions, post-abortion regret is uncommon, and abortion does not increase women’s risk of negative mental health outcomes.

Ashley Coffield, Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi CEO, expressed relief at the decision, reported WKRN News.

“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,” she said. “Intrusive, unnecessary, and medically dangerous restrictions like the 48-hour waiting period only make it harder to access basic health care.”

Tennessee Right to Life condemned the decision, asserting the law represents a “common sense policy.”

“Not only is this decision a slap at Tennessee’s abortion-vulnerable women, it is an affront to Tennessee’s voters who passed a 2014 constitutional amendment in which allowing a short waiting period was a key factor,” said Brian Harris, president of the pro-life organization. “Our organization remains committed to seeing a similar statute drafted and enforced during the next legislative session.”

Will Brewer, legal counsel and legislative liaison for Tennessee Right to Life, said the 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,” he said.

In April, Friedman also prohibited Tennessee from temporarily banning abortions, along with other nonessential medical procedures, during the coronavirus pandemic. Gov. Bill Lee (R) issued an executive order banning these procedures to preserve personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline workers serving those who became ill with the COVID-19 infection.