A federal district court in Tennessee blocked the governor’s attempt to temporarily ban abortion because of the coronavirus.
Earlier this month, in an executive order responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee moved to limit “non-emergency healthcare procedures” until at least the end of the month. The order does not specifically cite abortion services, but instead reads in part, “All healthcare professionals and healthcare facilities in the state of Tennessee shall postpone surgical and invasive procedures that are elective and non-urgent.”
In response, the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the ACLU of Tennessee filed an emergency lawsuit to challenge the order last week.
The lawsuit argues that the governor’s order effectively bans abortion in the sate, violating Roe v. Wade, as well as a women’s right to liberty and autonomy under the Fourteenth Amendment.
Late last week, a court granted an emergency motion, allowing clinics to resume procedural abortions. U.S. District Court Judge Bernard Friedman wrote in his decision that “abortion is a time-sensitive procedure.
“Delaying a woman’s access to abortion even by a matter of days can result in her having to undergo a lengthier and more complex procedure that involves progressively greater health risks, or can result in her losing the right to obtain an abortion altogether. Therefore, plaintiffs have demonstrated that enforcement of EO-25 causes them irreparable harm.”
Read the judge’s full decision below:See related PDF
Ashely Coffield, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi, applauded the judge’s decision: “the priority of Planned Parenthood health centers has always been the health and safety of our patients, staff, and community.
“Since the onset of the pandemic, we have done our part to promote best practices that reduce the transmission of the coronavirus and conserve needed resources. I am grateful the guidance in the executive order has been clarified so we may continue to do so while still meeting the needs of our patients.”
Rebecca Terrell, executive director of CHOICES Memphis Center for Reproductive Health, also lauded Friedman’s decision, expressing relief that the clinic can start rescheduling appointments for patients.
“This has been a very challenging and emotional time for our patients, and frankly heartbreaking for our staff,” Terrell said. “We are so relieved that we can start rescheduling appointments for our patients and they won’t be forced to travel out of state during this scary time.”
Tennessee is just one of several states whose government moved to ban abortions amid the COVID-19 outbreak. Lawsuits on the matter are ongoing in Alabama, Arkansas, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Texas.