Waiting period

Four years after enactment, Tennessee’s 48 hour waiting period examined in court case

By Dave Andrusko

Way back on July 1, 2015 we posted a story under the headline, “Pro-Lifers celebrate as Tennessee waiting period and abortion clinic regulation laws take effect.”

On that day, the state’s informed consent measure which provides for a 48-hour waiting period for women and girls seeking an abortion after meeting with the abortionist, took effect.

Although you’d never know it by newspaper accounts, the waiting period is strongly supported by Tennesseans. “[A] recent poll by Vanderbilt University showed Tennessee voters largely support the two-day waiting period, with 60 percent in favor of the measure, while 28 percent oppose it,” Anita Wadhwani reported in 2015 for The Tennessean.

Which brings us to Monday Attorneys for five of the seven abortion clinics will trying to persuade Senior Judge Bernard Friedman that the requirement cumulative represents an “undue burden” on a woman’s right to an abortion.

Wadhwani first explained the plaintiffs’ case:

“Here the burdens imposed are significant,” said Autumn Katz, an attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is challenging Tennessee’s law. “The act impacts every woman seeking an abortion.”

“It is clear the benefits, if any, are overwhelmingly outweighed by the significant burdens,” Katz said.

Not so, said Alex Rieger, an assistant attorney general, who

argued Tennessee has two key interests in upholding the waiting period law: protecting fetal life and providing women time to form “mental clarity” about their decision.

“The decision to have an abortion is not a revocable one,” he said. “There is a benefit to being sure.”

Waiting periods are not new to Tennessee, said Rieger. From 1978 to 2000, Tennessee had a mandatory 48-hour abortion waiting period that was later overturned by the state Supreme Court.

“Tennessee’s waiting period is not a substantial obstacle to a woman seeking an abortion,” Rieger said, citing state Department of Health data showing the number of abortions in Tennessee increased in 2016 – after the 2015 measure took effect.

As Travis Loller of the Associated Press noted, the state reminded the court in its court filings, “Since Tennessee’s law was enacted, more than 2,000 women have declined to obtain abortions after completing their initial informed consent visits.”

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