Just one day before a Tennessee medication abortion “reversal” law was to take effect, a federal district court issued a temporary restraining order blocking the measure in response to a lawsuit filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights and its partners on behalf of several Tennessee clinics and providers.
The law, which was to have taken effect October 1, would have forced providers to give false and misleading information to patients about the potential to “reverse” a medication abortion.
“This law is a blatant free speech violation, forcing doctors to provide their patients with misleading and false information about abortion,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “We will keep fighting this law until it is struck down for good. There is no credible scientific evidence to support the claim that medication abortion can be reversed. Forcing doctors to say otherwise puts patients at risk.”
The Tennessee law would have required providers to share false and misleading information about medication abortion “reversal” with patients at least 48 hours in advance of the procedure, and again after the patient had taken the first medication. Clinics were also required to prominently post similar misinformation on signs throughout their facilities. Providers who did not comply could face one to six years in prison, with their facilities fined $10,000 per day for failure to post the signs.
Abortion “reversal” laws have been opposed by leading medical groups, including the American College for Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American Medical Association. The claim that medication abortion can be “reversed” is unproven, politically motivated, and without basis in medical research. Laws similar to the Tennessee measure have been blocked by Center lawsuits in other states, including North Dakota and Oklahoma.
Patients Need Evidence-Based Care, Not Deception
Rebecca Terrell, Executive Director at Memphis Center for Reproductive Health (CHOICES), one of the plaintiffs in the case, said, “Our patients depend on us for honest, evidence-based care. We’re glad we aren’t forced to deceive them with quackery—at least not yet.”
The lawsuit is being brought by Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi, Knoxville Center for Reproductive Health, Memphis Center for Reproductive Health (CHOICES), 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.
“This law would force providers to give their patients false, misleading, and irrelevant information, in violation of their ethical and professional responsibilities,” said Michelle Moriarty, staff attorney at the Center. “Access to vital health care, including medication abortion, is particularly important during the current COVID-19 pandemic, and patients must be able to trust their doctors to provide them accurate, relevant information supported by science—not politics. We will continue fighting this plainly unconstitutional law until it is enjoined for good.”
The Tennessee law generated pushback not only from rights organizations and health care providers, but from some local law enforcement as well. Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk, a defendant in the case, declared that he “will not enforce” the law because it is “unconstitutional” and that “criminal law must not be used by the State to exercise control over a woman’s body.”
Reproductive Rights Under Attack in Tennessee
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.
In July, in response to a lawsuit by the Center and its partners, a federal district court blocked portions of a Tennessee law that would have banned abortion at nearly every stage of pregnancy and if the abortion is sought for specific reasons. In April, in another case brought by the Center and its partners, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a district court ruling preventing Tennessee from using the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to ban abortion care.
For details on Tennessee’s anti-abortion laws and policies, visit the Center’s interactive state-by-state tool, “What if Roe Fell?”