NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee, Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, representing the Knoxville Center for Reproductive Health, today filed papers seeking to join a federal lawsuit challenging a state law that forces a woman to delay care by at least 48 hours and make an additional, medically unnecessary visit to a physician before she is able to end her pregnancy safely and legally. Mainstream medical experts like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists oppose forced delay laws because they create barriers to medical care for political reasons.
"Imposing a burdensome delay in access to care that serves no medical purpose whatsoever is nothing more than invasive political interference in private healthcare decisions," said Hedy Weinberg, American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee executive director. "A woman seeking abortion care is as capable of making decisions as any other patient — she doesn't need a mandatory 'time out' before she can make a decision about her health care."
Under the delay requirement, a woman must receive certain information orally and in person from the attending physician who will perform the abortion or a referring physician. She must then wait at least 48 hours and return for the abortion care. Only four Tennessee cities have health centers that provide abortion, so most women must travel for these consultations. Doctors who do not comply, even if they deem it is in their patients' best interest, can be subject to criminal penalties and loss of licensure.
"The 48-hour delay requirement does not enhance patient safety — rather, it punishes women by blocking access to safe abortion," said Ashley Coffield, chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region. "It forces women to endure an additional, medically unnecessary visit causing these patients further logistical and financial burdens. This has a disproportionate impact on communities of color and low-income women, who already face systemic barriers in accessing quality health care. We are in court to fight for every person's right to access medical care that's based on their doctor's expertise and best interest — and not based on political interference."
According to the complaint, this law forces a woman to find a way to arrange and incur the costs of travel, time off work, and child care for two separate trips to a health center that are at least 48 hours apart — as a result, some women have had to delay the procedure by two to three weeks or more. This is true even if a woman is suffering a pregnancy-related illness; even if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest; and even if a woman has received a diagnosis of a severe, or lethal, fetal anomaly.
The lawsuit, Adams & Boyle, P.C. et al. v. Slatery, et al., asks the court to strike down the 48-hour delay requirement as an unconstitutional, undue burden on a woman’s decision to have an abortion.
The lawsuit was originally filed in 2015 by the Center for Reproductive Rights on behalf of several Tennessee clinics. In addition to the delay requirement, the suit initially challenged a law requiring doctors providing abortions in Tennessee to have admitting privileges at local hospitals and one requiring certain reproductive health facilities to meet the same building requirements as hospital-like ambulatory surgical treatment centers. Those two laws were permanently blocked by the court after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down two nearly identical laws in Texas as unconstitutional.
"We all want women to have the information and support they need to make medical decisions that are best for their health and well-being. Planned Parenthood health centers provide every patient with accurate information, counseling, and support to make personal medical decisions that are best for her health and well-being," said Keri Adams, interim chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee. "On the other hand, these burdensome restrictions are yet another cynical attempt by politicians to shame women and make it harder to access safe, legal abortion. These regulations have nothing to do with patient health and safety, but with politicians inserting themselves into private medical decisions."
The case is pending in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee.
The ACLU of Tennessee is joined by the national ACLU Foundation in representing the Knoxville Center for Reproductive Health. The Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Scott P. Tift and David W. Garrison of Barrett Johnston Martin & Garrison, LLC represent Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee and Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region.
A copy of the complaint filed today can be found at: http://www.aclu-tn.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/2nd-Amended-Complaint_Redacted.pdf
The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee is freedom's watchdog, challenging government abuse of rights and fighting for fairness in our laws and their enforcement. We are dedicated to translating the guarantees of the Bill of Rights into reality for all Tennesseans through community education, legislative lobbying, advocacy and litigation.
Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region (PPGMR), founded in 1938, is an affiliate of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. PPGMR’s mission is to improve health and well-being by providing high-quality, non-judgmental sexual health care, honest and accurate sexuality education, and reproductive health and rights advocacy.
Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee (PPMET) is an affiliate of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. PPMET's mission is to ensure broad public access to reproductive and related health care through clinic services, education, advocacy and community partnerships in serving 76 counties in Middle and East Tennessee and 39 counties in Southeastern and Western Kentucky.