A federal judge has issued a temporary restraining order blocking Tennessee Governor Bill Lee’s halt on procedural abortions during the coronavirus pandemic. This decision is another victory for reproductive rights advocates fighting abortion bans across the United States, including in Texas, Alabama, Oklahoma, and Arkansas.
U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman ruled Friday that Tennessee cannot prohibit procedural abortions because they are time-sensitive procedures. Friedman also determined that the ban would not fulfill its purported goal of preserving any significant amount of personal protective equipment (PPE) for COVID-19-related care. “Delaying a woman’s access to abortion even by a matter of days can result in her having to undergo a lengthier and more complex procedure that involves progressively greater health risks, or can result in her losing the right to obtain an abortion altogether,” Friedman wrote in his opinion.
On April 8, Governor Lee halted all non-emergency medical procedures until April 30 to reduce patient-provider interactions and preserve supplies of PPEs. A spokesperson later clarified that the halt also applied to abortion care.
Several Tennessee abortion providers, including Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi and the Knoxville Center for Reproductive Health, sought a temporary restraining order for the governor’s ban. They argued that abortion is essential healthcare that cannot be delayed without potentially severe health and economic consequences for patients. The providers also argued that the ban would actually facilitate the spread of COVID-19 by pushing patients to travel to other states for care or forcing them to give birth, a procedure that requires more PPE use and patient-provider interaction than procedural abortions.
“The court’s decision today ensures that women in Tennessee can continue to make their own decisions about pregnancy and parenting based on what is best for their families,” said Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the ACLU of Tennessee. “Especially during a pandemic, it is crucial that women have access to a full range of health services, including abortion, to ensure their health and well-being,”
Sources: CNN 4/18/20; The Hill 4/19/20