Center and Partners Challenge Tennessee Medication Abortion “Reversal” Law

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Law Forces Doctors to Lie to Patients

09.03.2020

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The Center for Reproductive Rights and its partners have sued to block a Tennessee law requiring doctors to lie to patients by telling them that medication abortions can be “reversed.” Such a “reversal” claim is unproven, politically motivated, and without basis in medical research.

“This law is an egregious free speech violation. Forcing doctors to lie to their patients is unconstitutional and dangerous,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “More and more, politicians are using doctors as pawns in the attack on abortion—whether it be through laws like this that force providers to give false information about abortion, or policies like the Title X Gag Rule that prevent doctors from openly discussing abortion with their patients.”

The lawsuit, Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi, et al. v. Slatery, et al., is asking a federal court to block the Tennessee law before it takes effect on October 1, 2020. The suit is brought by Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi, Memphis Center for Reproductive Health (“CHOICES”), Knoxville Center for Reproductive Health, and carafem — represented by Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the Center for Reproductive Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the ACLU of Tennessee.

Eroding Trust Between Patients and Doctors

The lawsuit argues that the Tennessee measure is an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment free speech rights of doctors, clinics, and staff, and a violation of the sanctity of the doctor-patient relationship, since it forces doctors to lie to and mislead their patients. It also alleges Fourteenth Amendment violations of patients’ right to access abortion free from undue state interference and providers’ and patients’ guarantees of equal protection.

Medication abortion “reversal” laws are opposed by medical experts, including the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American College for Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). ACOG has stated that the laws are “based on unproven, unethical research” and “dangerous to women’s health.” 

Medication abortions, commonly used in early pregnancy, involve taking two medications in sequence. The Tennessee law requires providers to give government-mandated misleading information about medication abortion “reversal” to their patients 48 hours in advance of providing a medication abortion and again after the patient has taken the first medication. Clinics will also have to prominently post similar misinformation on signs throughout their facilities.

Providers who don’t comply will face criminal prosecution for a Class E felony, punishable by one to six years in prison, as well as potential civil liability and/or licensure penalties; facilities will face a $10,000 fine per day for failure to display the required signs.

Similar medication abortion “reversal” laws have been blocked by Center lawsuits in other states, including in  North Dakota and Oklahoma.

Reproductive Rights Under Assault in Tennessee

Earlier this summer, in response to a lawsuit by the Center and its partners, a federal district court blocked portions of a Tennessee law that ban abortion at nearly every stage of pregnancy and if the abortion is sought for specific reasons.

Tennessee already has numerous abortion restrictions on the books, including a ban on the use of telehealth for medication abortion; a mandatory 48-hour waiting period and two-trip requirement; limits on private and public insurance for abortion coverage; and a requirement that minors obtain parental consent.

For details on Tennessee’s anti-abortion laws and policies, click here for the Center’s interactive state-by-state tool, “What if Roe Fell?”