On Wednesday, a federal judge struck down a 2015 law in Tennessee requiring pregnant people to wait 48 hours after a clinic visit to have an abortion procedure done. The judge, Bernard A. Friedman, found that this law “placed an undue burden on women, particularly low-income women, by requiring them to travel to a health center twice for the procedure…These burdens are especially difficult, if not impossible, for low-income women to overcome, and the evidence clearly shows that the vast majority of women seeking abortions in Tennessee are low income”.
Judge Friedman also said that the 48-hour waiting period was “gratuitously demeaning to women who have decided to have an abortion” and that “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”.
This ruling was the first ruling made by a federal court that struck down an abortion waiting period since a Supreme Court decision in 1992. This decision upheld a 24-hour waiting period in Pennsylvania, which set a precedent for federal courts reviewing similar laws and rulings. The Tennessee law, in effect for about five years now, required pregnant people seeking an abortion to receive information and counseling in person, then to wait at least 48 hours after that appointment for the actual procedure, the only exception being a medical emergency.
Ashley Coffield, President of Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi, stated that this ruling was “a win for patients”. The Center for Reproductive Rights is challenging similar waiting period laws in various states, including Arizona, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Oklahoma. The senior counsel of the Center, Autumn Katz, said that she hopes that this decision “serves as a wake-up call to lawmakers trying to interfere with patients’ personal medical decisions”.
Media Resources: New York Times 10/14/20, Forbes 10/14/20, Reuters 10/14/20