Ban on abortion if sought for certain reasons, including Down syndrome, is blocked again

CINCINNATI, Ohio — Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit blocked a Tennessee ban on abortion starting at approximately six weeks into pregnancy. The court also blocked a ban on abortion based on certain reasons for seeking care, such as a fetal Down syndrome diagnosis or the potential for such a diagnosis. This “reason ban” has been in effect since November 2020, following a panel ruling from the Sixth Circuit that allowed the law to take effect. The six-week abortion ban was previously blocked by a lower court. 

“The court of appeals today rightly respected nearly 50 years of precedent by blocking these dangerous laws,” said Brigitte Amiri, deputy director of the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project. “With all eyes on the devastating effect of Texas’ abortion ban, this is welcome news for Tennesseans and the rule of law.”  

“We applaud the court for recognizing that access to abortion is a constitutionally protected right,” said Hedy Weinberg, ACLU of Tennessee executive director. “People should be able to make decisions for themselves about whether and when to become a parent, without politicians interfering. Today's ruling is critical to Tennesseans' ability to continue receiving safe and legal abortion care. We will continue to fight this unconstitutional law until it is struck down for good.” 

“Today is a huge win for pregnant people in Tennessee,” said Rabia Muqaddam, staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “These bans would dangerously prevent patients from getting care, and politicians should not get to decide what is an acceptable reason for seeking an abortion. While we are relieved that the court has reinstated a full block on these abortion bans, we must remain vigilant. With a case that could overturn Roe v. Wade before the Supreme Court, Congress must act swiftly to protect abortion access and declare abortion bans like these illegal by passing the Women’s Health Protection Act.” 

“After Texas rendered the constitutional right to abortion meaningless and other states continued to attack access to care, the 6th Circuit’s decision to block Tennessee’s six-week abortion ban and reason ban brings some relief,” said Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “We know that abortion bans that prevent people from accessing care not only reinforce abortion stigma, but also disproportionately harm pregnant Black, Latinx, and Indigenous people. Planned Parenthood will continue fighting alongside our partners until patients everywhere have meaningful access to the care they need when they need it, and can make their own personal decisions and determine their own futures — free of interference by politicians.” 

“Today’s ruling affirms that abortion remains safe and legal in Tennessee, even in the midst of a national, coordinated attack on abortion rights,” said Ashley Coffield, president and CEO of PPTNM. “We trust our patients to make their own, fully informed reproductive health care decisions. We are thankful that the court ruled to protect that trust and ensure that we can continue to provide expert, compassionate abortion care in our state.”

Tennessee has many additional abortion restrictions on the books, including a ban on the use of telehealth for medication abortion; limits on when state and public insurance can cover abortion services; and a requirement that minors obtain parental consent. Earlier this year, the full Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a district court decision striking down a 48-hour mandatory waiting period for abortion in Tennessee. That law is now in effect. The Center, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the ACLU, and the ACLU of Tennessee filed another case challenging the state’s medication abortion “reversal” law in August 2020, and that law has been temporarily blocked from taking effect. 

Later this year, the Supreme Court will hear a case challenging a Mississippi ban on abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. These types of bans on abortion prior to viability have been unconstitutional since 1973, when the Supreme Court decided the landmark case Roe v. Wade — precedent used to challenge these abortion bans in Tennessee. In Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which was brought by the Center, the court has agreed to consider whether all pre-viability prohibitions on abortion are unconstitutional. 

The Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA) was reintroduced in Congress in June 2021. The bill would create a federal statutory right for health care providers to provide abortion care, and a corresponding right for their patients to receive that care, free from medically unnecessary restrictions that single out abortion care and impede access. This includes abortion bans like those at issue here and in Mississippi. 

This case was filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the ACLU of Tennessee on behalf of the Memphis Center for Reproductive Health, Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi, Knoxville Center for Reproductive Health, carafem, and two individual abortion providers in Tennessee. 

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