Federal Court Blocks Tennessee Abortion Bans

Tennessee’s law banning abortion at nearly every stage of pregnancy is blocked while litigation continues

July 24, 2020 5:30 pm

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NASHVILLE, Tenn.A federal district court in Tennessee today issued a preliminary injunction blocking parts of a new Tennessee law, including a series of gestational age bans that would ban abortion at nearly every stage of pregnancy, starting as early as six weeks.

The court also blocked a part of the law that bans abortion based on a patient’s reason for seeking abortion, including reasons related to race, sex, or a fetal diagnosis of Down syndrome. Abortion bans, especially those that ban the procedure before many people even know they are pregnant, threaten the health, rights, and lives of people of color disproportionately.

Additionally, “reason bans” inflict further harm by perpetuating stigma around abortions and stereotypes of Black and Brown communities, Asian Americans, and people with disabilities. Abortion patients — like all patients — should have the right to make private medical decisions with their families and their doctors, without interference from politicians.

“It is right that the court ruled against Tennessee’s abortion ban today, an unconstitutional violation of the right to abortion, rooted in misogyny and racism,” said Anjali Dalal, senior staff attorney at the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. “It is shameful that it took litigation to stop anti-abortion politicians from ruthlessly attacking their constituents’ rights and health care, especially during a pandemic. But we will always fight to protect abortion from these attacks — and should the state move to obstruct access to care again, we will see them in court.”

“Today’s critical ruling protects Tennesseans’ constitutional right to access abortion,” said Thomas H. Castelli, ACLU of Tennessee legal director. “People should be able to make their own decisions about whether and when to become a parent without politicians interfering. This unconstitutional law disproportionately harms people of color and people who live in rural areas — groups that already face significant barriers to accessing health care in our state. We will continue to fight back against politicians’ attacks on constitutionally-protected abortion care.”

The court granted today’s preliminary injunction at the request of numerous abortion providers in the state represented by the Center for Reproductive Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and the ACLU of Tennessee. Moments after Gov. Bill Lee signed the law on July 13, the court issued a restraining order blocking the abortion bans temporarily. Today’s injunction provides longer-term relief, blocking the bans until the lawsuit is resolved.

In the decision, Judge William L. Campbell wrote, “Applying binding Supreme Court precedent and the factors required for the extraordinary remedy of an injunction … the court concludes that an injunction should issue.”

“While we welcome today’s ruling, it is outrageous that Tennessee’s anti-abortion lawmakers chose this path,” said Jessica Sklarsky, lead attorney on this case and senior staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “As the deep roots and tragedies of white supremacy are laid bare, and the pandemic exposes long-ignored health inequities, these anti-abortion lawmakers chose to utilize the state’s limited resources to defend clearly unconstitutional abortion bans that prey on stereotypes, disproportionately harm communities of color, and further entrench systemic racism. Instead of perpetuating these injustices, Tennessee lawmakers should focus their time and resources on policies that address them.”

“As Tennessee and the rest of the country grapple with the dueling public health crises of systemic racism and COVID-19, relitigating the constitutional right to abortion is the last thing politicians should be wasting valuable time and resources on,” said Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO, Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “Let’s be clear — abortion bans are part of a larger, racist public health infrastructure that systematically forces people of color to navigate more barriers just to get the health care they need. Banning abortion during a pandemic when people are already suffering is an added cruelty that puts essential health care out of reach. We’ll continue fighting for our patients in Tennessee and across the country against these harmful attacks — no matter what.”

Just three months ago, Gov. Lee attempted to ban abortion procedures during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic by labeling abortion care as non-essential despite opposition from leading national medical groups. In April, that attempt was blocked in court after a lawsuit was filed by the same organizations litigating today’s case.

Last year alone, 25 abortion bans were enacted in 12 states, including: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Ohio, Tennessee, and Utah. The Center for Reproductive Rights, the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and other organizations responded by filing litigation to ensure abortion remains legal in all 50 states. To date, the groups’ lawsuits have stopped these illegal bans from depriving pregnant people of their constitutional right to abortion.

Tennessee has numerous additional abortion restrictions on the books, including a ban on the use of telehealth for medication abortion; a mandatory 48-hour waiting period (which includes a requirement that forces patients to delay care by adding a medically unnecessary trip to the clinic to receive state-mandated information); limits on when state and public insurance can cover abortion services; and a requirement that minors obtain parental consent. The Center for Reproductive Rights and Planned Parenthood are litigating another case in the state challenging the 48-hour waiting period.

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

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