Abortion Courts Reproductive Rights

U.S. Court of Appeals Upholds Tennessee’s 48-hour Abortion Waiting Period

On Thursday, the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a Tennessee law that requires people seeking an abortion to observe a 48-hour waiting period between their first visit to a clinic and when they can obtain an abortion.

The federal appeals court’s decision overturns a ruling from a lower court, which declared the law unconstitutional last year. U.S. District Judge Bernard Freidman of the lower court had argued that the 48-hour waiting period imposes logistical burdens that could delay patients in receiving care.

To get an abortion under Tennessee’s 48-hour waiting period, established in 2015, patients must first go to a clinic to receive mandatory counseling. Then, they must wait at least 48 hours before returning to the clinic on a second trip to get their abortion.

Judge Amul Thapar of the 6th Circuit, who wrote the majority opinion, argued that there was not enough evidence to prove that the waiting period created a “substantial obstacle” for people trying to get an abortion.

The Bristol Regional Women’s Center and the Memphis Center for Reproductive Health had filed the lawsuit against Tennessee to challenge the law.

Judge Karen Nelson Moore was the only judge on the court to dissent the opinion. She argued that the waiting period “peddles stigma” and puts “severe logistical, financial, medical, and psychological burdens” on people seeking abortion.

“In this circuit, the scales have now tipped inescapably against women: their rights are secondary burdens that are immaterial, the obstacles they must face are nothing,” she wrote. “In whitewashing the record, the majority has crystalized what has been clear at least since it agreed to hear this case initially en banc without a principled basis: the case was dead on arrival.”

Several reproductive rights organizations and abortion rights advocates also criticized the ruling.

“With this law, politicians are purporting that they know better than patients when it comes to making personal decisions about their health care,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, in a statement to AP News. “It’s demanding and medically unnecessary.”

“This isn’t over,” said Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “Planned Parenthood will continue to fight alongside our partners to ensure every person can access safe, legal abortion services—without medically unnecessary barriers.”

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