Federal judge declares Tennessee abortion law unconstitutional

NASHVILLE, Tennessee (AP) – A federal judge ruled Wednesday that Tennessee 48 Hour Waiting Period Act for abortions is unconstitutional because it serves no legitimate purpose while imposing a substantial burden on women seeking abortions in Tennessee.

Tennessee’s 2015 law requires women to visit an abortion clinic twice, first for mandatory counseling, and then for abortion at least 48 hours later.

In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Bernard Freidman ruled that the state could not prove that the law furthered its purported goals.

“Women’s mental and emotional health does not benefit because the mandatory waiting period does not increase the decision-making certainty of women considering an abortion,” Friedman wrote. “In addition, the evidence shows that at least 95% of women are certain of their decisions, postabortion regrets are rare, and abortion does not increase a woman’s risk for mental health problems. “

Friedman, a person appointed by President Ronald Reagan, said the testimony of the state’s leading witness was “not credible and did not deserve serious consideration.”

Priscilla Coleman, professor of psychology at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, testified at trial that abortion is associated with mental health issues and said she believed most scientific literature on abortion was politically biased in favor of abortion.

Directors of Tennessee Abortion Clinics testified at trial that the waiting period is causing financial hardship and stress for women. They also said the two-visit requirement poses logistical challenges for patients and clinics that delay abortions well beyond the 48 hours required by law, leading some women to resort to unsafe surgical abortions. higher complications. Some women are pushed past the point where they can fully have an abortion.

Friedman found that the evidence supported these claims because second trimester abortions had increased since the law came into effect and safer medical abortions had declined.

Additionally, Friedman said the mandatory waiting period is “gratuitously demeaning” by treating women as incapable of making rational decisions.

“The accused’s suggestion that women are overly emotional and should be forced to calm down or calm down before undergoing any medical procedure that they have decided to undergo, and that they have a constitutional right to have, is highly insulting and paternalistic – and all the more so since such waiting periods do not apply to men, ”he wrote.

However, Friedman declined to comment on the plaintiffs’ claim for equal protection, having previously found the law unconstitutional due to the undue burden it places on women.

Friedman refers to the 1992 United States Supreme Court decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey in favor of a 24-hour waiting period in Pennsylvania, noting that at the time there was not much on the court record to show how much the waiting period weighed on the women. He compares it to the Tennessee case.

“The plaintiffs in this case have proven with overwhelming evidence that the 48-hour waiting period (besides serving no legitimate purpose) weighs heavily on the majority of women seeking abortions,” Friedman wrote. “This significantly delays this urgent medical procedure, and also makes it so time-consuming, expensive and inconvenient to obtain that the mostly low-income population seeking the service must have difficulty accessing it, if they can access it.” “

And Friedman noted another key difference: Pennsylvania had 81 abortion providers at the time of the Casey decision, 10 times more than Tennessee today.

The Tennessee law contained a provision that if the 48-hour waiting period was found to be unconstitutional, it would change to a 24-hour waiting period. Friedman blocked that possibility by banning Tennessee from applying either.

Wednesday’s decision comes more than a year after a four-day trial over the law and amid the confirmation of charges hearings for Supreme Court candidate Amy Coney Barrett, who critics say could help weaken or even nullify abortion rights in the United States.

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