Federal Judge Blocks Tennessee Medication Abortion Law

(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (CN) — A federal judge has temporarily blocked a Tennessee law requiring abortion providers to tell patients that medication abortions can be reversed, setting the stage for a hearing featuring dueling expert opinions over whether the advice is medically sound.

In his ruling Tuesday, U.S. District Judge William Campbell Jr., a Trump appointee, said the abortion providers that filed a lawsuit at the end of August challenging the law were likely to succeed on their claim the law violates their First Amendment rights.

But the order only lasts until Oct. 13, when the judge plans to hold a hearing weighing expert opinions over whether the Tennessee law would compel abortion providers to provide women seeking medical abortions untruthful and misleading information. In a separate order setting the hearing, Campbell said he was open to pushing off the hearing and extending his temporary restraining order up to 90 days.

The abortion providers – Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi, Memphis Center for Reproductive Health, Knoxville Center for Reproductive Health and carafem – argued the claim that the procedure can be reversed has been rejected by groups such as the American Medical Association and American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

To bolster their assertions, the abortion providers provided seven declarations of experts to the court. Meanwhile, a group of district attorneys and the Tennessee attorney general provided declarations of five doctors.

“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, adduced through direct and cross examination,” Campbell wrote in his 10-page ruling. “That assessment must await the preliminary injunction hearing at which the testimony of the expert witnesses may be offered by the parties.”

A medication abortion, performed to terminate an early pregnancy, is done by administering mifepristone and misoprostol. Proponents of the idea the procedure can be reversed say high doses of progesterone can stop the procedure before misoprostol is administered.

Tennessee’s law, which was set to take effect Thursday, would have made a failure to notify a patient a Class E felony. Six states currently require abortion providers tell patients medication abortion can be reversed, according to the pro-abortion rights Guttmacher Institute, while courts have blocked the requirement in two other states.

Last week, District Attorney General Glenn Funk, whose jurisdiction includes Nashville, filed a declaration in the case saying he would not enforce the law in question because he thought it was unconstitutional.

“With regard to reproductive issues, the criminal law must not be used by the State to exercise control over a women’s body,” Funk, a Democrat, said in his three-page declaration.

Funk, who is one of the defendants named in the case, said the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office refused to file his declaration so he filed it on his own.

In response, Tennessee’s Republican Governor Bill Lee took to Twitter to criticize the DA’s decision, saying public officials don’t get to choose which laws to uphold. 

“A district attorney purposefully disregarding current, duly enacted laws by the legislature is a grave matter that threatens our justice system and has serious consequences,” Lee wrote.

Ashley Coffield, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi, said in a statement that Tennessee’s medication abortion law was passed during a late-night legislative session at a time when the state faced a “reckoning with racial injustice in our communities” and had begun dealing with the pandemic.

“Today is a victory in blocking another failed policy peddled by Gov. Lee, but the fight has just begun,” Coffield said. “Every person deserves access to medically accurate information and we will continue standing on the side of truth and science, for our patients.”

Samantha Fisher, spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s Office, said in a statement the judge’s order preserves the status quo until the hearing.

“We look forward to presenting evidence at the hearing to support the constitutionality of the statute,” she said.

%d bloggers like this: