Tennessee abortion law lands in federal court

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TRI-CITIES, Tenn. (WJHL)- An abortion law in Tennessee is being challenged in federal court this week.

The 2015 legislation requires a woman to wait 48 hours to get an abortion after an initial in-person consultation.

Tennessee is one of 14 states that mandates women make two trips to a clinic before taking an abortion pill or getting the surgical procedure.

Johnson City Attorney Thomas Jessee represents Bristol Regional Women’s Center, the only abortion clinic in Northeast Tennessee.

He said the additional cost and travel time of making two trips puts an undue burden on a woman’s right to choose.

“If this procedure was readily performed in all OBGYN offices it really wouldn’t be a problem but when there is so few and far between that a lady can get to it really does become a problem,” he said.

Jessee said the next closest clinic in the state is in Knoxville. There’s 8 total in Tennessee.

He said the 48-hour wait time forces some women to undergo surgery, rather than taking a pill, and others to forgo the procedure altogether.

“I can tell you they [Bristol Regional Women’s Center ] have had patients that didn’t come back, not because they did or didn’t want the procedure,” said Jessee. “When they got there for their counseling session, there was not 48 hours left to do the procedure.”

After the law was passed, Planned Parenthoods in Tennessee increased how late they would perform an abortion from just under 15 weeks to just under 20 weeks.

In fiscal years 2016 and 2017, 116 women were turned away for being too far along in their pregnancy, according to data collected during the trial discovery phase from Planned Parenthood locations in the Greater Memphis Region, Middle Tennessee and East Tennessee.

Those same locations also released data that shows, between July 1, 2015 and Decemeber 1, 2018, 2,365 women went to a counseling appointment and did not return for an abortion.

“We don’t know why people don’t return for care for abortion services,” said Aimee Lewis, vice president of external affairs and chief development officer for Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi. “They may have had a miscarriage or sought care at another provider. This is no different than before the delay requirement when people sought care to consider all of their options. ”

Republican Rep. Micah Van Huss said he supports the 2015 law because it gives women time to consider alternatives to abortion.

“The original intent, if you’re someone who believes a child is a human being, is to save lives,” he said, “Because they’re on their way to kill a human life, we need to give them every option to change their mind.”

Sen. Jon Lundberg said the waiting period also improves patient safety.

He said “almost any medical procedure,” requires an initial evaluation and follow up appointment.

“This is nothing uncommon. It doesn’t put an undue burden on anyone. It hasn’t across the state so I hope the courts will realize that exact fact,” Lundberg said.

Jessee said the trial is expected to last until at least Friday.

No matter what the court decides, he expects the losing party to appeal it.

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