(Updated 8-12-21) This lawsuit was filed as a challenge to three unconstitutional Tennessee measures designed to close reproductive health care clinics and make abortion harder to obtain. Two of the laws challenged have been permanently enjoined thanks to the Center’s litigation: One passed in 2012 that would have required all doctors providing abortion care in Tennessee to obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital, and a requirement passed in 2015 that would have forced reproductive health care facilities that provide more than 50 surgical abortions per year to meet the same building requirements as a hospital-like ambulatory surgical treatment center (ASTC)
The third requirement forces patients to delay abortion care by at least 48 hours and make two separate, in-person visits to their health care provider in order to access abortion services. On August 5, 2021, the full Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a district court decision striking down the waiting period, so the mandatory delay law is in effect.
Plaintiff(s): Bristol Regional Women’s Center; Memphis Center for Reproductive Health; Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region; Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi
Center Attorney(s): Autumn Katz, Michelle Moriarty, Rabia Muqaddam
Co-Counsel/Cooperating Attorneys: Planned Parenthood Federation of America; Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP; Barrett Johnston Martin & Garrison, LLC; Jessee & Jessee
Summary: The Center filed a lawsuit in federal court on June 25, 2015, challenging the ASTC and admitting privileges requirements and the 48-hour waiting period. The plaintiffs asked the court to immediately block the ASTC requirement, and after a hearing, the district court entered a preliminary injunction against the the ASTC requirement, which allowed the existing clinics that were in danger of closing to remain open. On December 17, 2015, the district court issued a stay of the case, placing it on hold until the Supreme Court issued its decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the Center’s challenge to similar clinic shutdown laws in Texas. In 2016, the Supreme Court struck down the Texas law.
Nine months after the Court’s historic ruling, which also affirmed a woman’s right to safe, legal abortion, Tennessee agreed to drop its defense of the admitting privileges and ASTC requirements and the court permanently blocked the requirements on April 14, 2017.
With regard to the mandatory 48-hour waiting period requirement, the district court struck down the law in October 2020, with Judge Bernard Friedman describing it as “highly insulting and paternalistic.”
However, in April 2021, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals allowed the law to take effect when it granted the state’s request to suspend the district court permanent injunction pending appeal. Oral arguments were held June 2, 2021.
On August 5, 2021, the full Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the district court decision and upheld the mandatory waiting period. “Today’s decision completely ignores the trial court’s clear finding that this law imposes extreme burdens on Tennesseans seeking abortion,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO at the Center for Reproductive Rights.