Federal judge temporarily blocks Tennessee abortion reversal law

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Posted at 9:41 AM, Sep 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-30 10:45:29-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — A federal court has temporarily blocked Tennessee’s abortion law that requires women undergoing drug-induced abortions to be informed that the procedure can be reversed.

Judge William Campbell signed the order on Tuesday, which says the Tennessee Department of Health has 90 days to publish information about the “possibility of reversing the effects of a chemical abortion and about resources to help the patient in that endeavor."

“The court is unable to assess fully the competing expert opinions as to whether the mandated message is ‘truthful and not misleading,’ in the absence of the experts’ testimony,” the order said. “Nevertheless, the Court does not need to await the hearing to determine that another aspect of the mandated message is ‘misleading.’”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee praised the court's decision and called the law an "unproven and politically-motivated claim that has no basis in medical research."

"By passing a law that would force doctors to share misinformation not backed up by credible science, politicians are trying to steer patients to unproven, experimental medical treatments, and erode trust between patients and their providers," the ACLU said in part.

The state’s abortion law – one of the nation’s most restrictive – focuses mainly on banning abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which is about six weeks into pregnancy, before many women know they’re pregnant.

However, also tucked in the 38-page law is a requirement that doctors must inform women that drug-induced abortions may be halted halfway. Medical groups say the claim isn’t backed up by science and there is little information about the reversal procedure’s safety.

The law was set to go into effect on Thursday. Those who failed to comply would have faced a Class E felony, punishable by up to six years in prison.

Last week, Davidson County District Attorney Glenn Funk said he wouldn’t enforce the law, calling it unconstitutional. In the filing, Funk said “the criminal law must not be used by the State to exercise control over a woman's body.”

In August, abortion rights groups sued in effort to prevent that requirement from being implemented. Funk and other district attorneys were named in the suit because they prosecute criminal cases.

Hedy Weinberg, executive director for the ACLU of Tennessee, released a statement on Wednesday, saying:

“This decision is a victory for patients, who rightfully expect factual and clear information from their personal doctors. Politicians should not be allowed to force physicians to provide false and misleading information to their patients. We will continue to stand strong against our governor’s continued attempts to interfere in patients’ right to access safe reproductive health care.”

Gov. Bill Lee has promised to do “whatever it takes in court” to defend the law.