Tennessee’s Medically Unsound “Abortion Reversal” Law Challenged in Court

Medical experts agree there is no evidence that a medication abortion can be “reversed.”

August 31, 2020 4:45 pm

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Abortion providers in Tennessee filed a lawsuit today challenging a requirement that forces doctors to provide false and misleading information to their patients about the potential to “reverse” a medication abortion — an unproven and politically-motivated claim that has no basis in medical research. The groups are asking a federal court to block the law before it takes effect on Oct. 1, 2020. By forcing doctors to lie to patients and share misinformation that isn’t backed up by credible science, politicians are eroding the trust between patients and their providers.

If this law goes into effect, providers will be forced to share this misinformation with patients at least 48 hours in advance of providing a medication abortion and again after the patient has taken the first medication, as well as post signs with large, bold print throughout their clinics informing patients about abortion “reversal.” Providers who don’t comply will face criminal prosecution for a Class E felony, punishable by up to six years in prison. Facilities will face a $10,000 fine per day for failure to display the required signs.

Since 2015, politicians across the country have passed similar laws trying to force providers to promote the medically inaccurate idea that a medication abortion can be “reversed” — a debunked claim based on junk science peddled by anti-abortion researchers. Last year, courts blocked similar laws in North Dakota and Oklahoma. No one benefits from forcing providers to share misinformation with patients, who rely on their providers to help them make informed medical decisions.

The lawsuit is being brought by Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi, Knoxville Center for Reproductive Health, Memphis Center for Reproductive Health (“CHOICES”), and carafem — represented by Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the Center for Reproductive Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the ACLU of Tennessee.

If the court does not intervene, the law is set to take effect on October 1. Statements from the plaintiffs and litigators are below:

Statement from Andrew Beck, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project:
“This law is a medically baseless, shameful attack on access to abortion. Patients rely on the information presented by their medical providers to make personal medical decisions, and it is outrageous that politicians would try to meddle with that decision-making by bringing junk science into the exam room. We will fight until this law is blocked for good.”

Statement from Thomas H. Castelli, legal director for the ACLU of Tennessee:
“This dangerous law forces physicians to lie to their patients and provide false and misleading information. We cannot let politicians recklessly put patients at risk — while ignoring science and the Constitution — in order to serve their own personal political agendas. We will not back down in our efforts to stop this law.”

Statement from Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO, Planned Parenthood Federation of America:
“This medically unsound and factually inaccurate requirement is part of the coordinated war on truth and has no basis in science. Patients shouldn’t be subjected to misinformation just to get a medication abortion. Adding insult to injury, threatening doctors with prison time makes this law that much more dangerous. Politicians trying to roll back abortion access know the only way to push their dangerous agenda is to spread misinformation. In doing so, they are putting people’s lives at risk. Our patients and providers deserve better.”

Statement from Ashley Coffield, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi:
“Patients have to be able to trust that their doctors are being honest with them and providing evidence-based medical information, not a biased, politically motivated script designed to shame them. Forcing doctors to share misinformation with patients is cruel during normal times and downright dangerous during a pandemic. And yet they still went ahead and passed this law in a desperate attempt to score political points. We have no choice but to fight back because the health and safety of our patients is our top priority.”

Statement from Nancy Northup, president & CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights:
“This law is an egregious free speech violation. Forcing doctors to lie to their patients is unconstitutional and dangerous. More and more, politicians are using doctors as pawns in the attack on abortion — whether it be through laws like this that force providers to give false information about abortion, or policies like the Title X gag rule that prevent doctors from openly discussing abortion with their patients.”

Statement from Rebecca Terrell, executive director at Memphis Center for Reproductive Health (CHOICES):
“Trust is the very foundation of our relationship with our patients. They trust us to support their decisions, to provide evidence-based care, and to tell them the truth. By requiring us to tell our patients something that is not supported by medical science, and that suggests that they are not making the ‘correct’ decision, this law breaks that trust.”

These “reversal” laws are opposed by medical experts, including the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American College for Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). In fact, the AMA is a party to the lawsuit in North Dakota challenging a similar “reversal” law.

Just four months ago, Gov. Bill Lee attempted to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic to ban abortion, 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.

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 private and public insurance can cover abortion services; and a requirement that minors obtain parental consent.

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