Court Lets Part of Tennessee Abortion Ban Take Effect

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Law banning abortion if sought for reasons related to Down syndrome, race, or gender will take effect in Tennessee
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Today, a 6th Circuit Court of Appeals panel granted a request from the state of Tennessee, letting part of a law take effect that prohibits abortion based on a patient’s reason, including a potential Down syndrome diagnosis or the sex or race of the fetus. These “reason bans” were signed into law in July as part of a larger abortion bill that also contains a series of gestational age bans prohibiting abortion starting at six weeks in pregnancy -- all of which were immediately blocked by a lower court. 

Today’s ruling will allow the reason bans to take effect while litigation continues. The groups that brought this case will be going back to the district court later tonight to ask for a temporary restraining order blocking these reason bans once again, on the grounds that it is a violation of the constitutional right to abortion before viability. These kind of reason bans inflict harm by peddling stigma around abortions and stereotypes of Asian Americans and Black and brown communities, and by attempting to co-opt the mantle of disability rights.

“These bans are just another way anti-abortion politicians are attempting to limit the constitutional right to abortion care and to create stigma,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “Decisions about whether and when to continue or to end a pregnancy are best made by the individual and their family. We will continue to fight these bans in the courts.”

“Today's ruling allows this abortion ban to remain in place while the case continues, and will cause immediate harm to Tennesseans in the middle of making deeply personal medical decisions,” said Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO, Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “Politicians fought for this abortion ban while pushing racist stereotypes of Asian American and Black communities, instead of pursuing policies that would actually improve the lives of people with disabilities. This is shameful. While politicians abandon Tennesseans who need access to reproductive health care, Planned Parenthood continues to stand by our patients. We remain committed to helping everyone access abortion, despite politicians and courts doing everything they can to stand in their way. This fight is far from over.”

“It is shameful that the court would allow this abortion ban to take effect while the case continues. Unless the courts take further action, this harmful law will prohibit some Tennesseans from obtaining abortion,” said Brigitte Amiri, deputy director of the ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project. “This law was motivated by anti-abortion politics, and does nothing to support people with disabilities. We will continue to fight until everyone in Tennessee who needs an abortion can get one.”

"This law is just another unconstitutional effort to ban abortion in our state. It does nothing to address the serious concerns of those with disabilities in our community or to ensure that people living with disabilities and their families have access to health care and other services they may need. Nor is this bill about addressing discrimination against women and girls or people of color. Banning certain abortions will not provide a real solution to gender or racial discrimination and does nothing to address their root causes," said Hedy Weinberg, ACLU of Tennessee executive director. "We will continue to fight for people's ability to make their own decisions about pregnancy without political interference."

More than a dozen states have passed similar reason bans. Tennessee’s gestational age bans, which would ban abortion at nearly every stage of pregnancy starting as early as six weeks, remain blocked through this same lawsuit. 

Tennessee has many additional abortion restrictions on the books, including a ban on the use of telehealth for medication abortion; limits on when state and public insurance can cover abortion services; and a requirement that minors obtain parental consent. A federal district court struck down the state’s 48-hour waiting period for abortion in October in a case litigated by the Center and Planned Parenthood. The Center, Planned Parenthood, and the ACLU filed another case challenging the state’s medication abortion “reversal” law in August, and that law has been temporarily blocked from taking effect. 

This case was filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the ACLU of Tennessee on behalf of the Memphis Center for Reproductive Health, Planned Parenthood Tennessee and North Mississippi, Knoxville Center for Reproductive Health, carafem, and two abortion providers in Tennessee.

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MEDIA CONTACT:
Center for Reproductive Rights: center.press@reprorights.org, 609-964-6759

Planned Parenthood: media.office@ppfa.org, 212-261-4433

ACLU: Mia Jacobs, mjacobs@aclu.org, 201-919-0333

ACLU of Tennessee: Lindsay Kee, communications@aclu-tn.org, 615-320-7142