Tennessee Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery III announced Friday, Nov. 12 that the constitutionality of Tennessee’s 48-hour waiting period for abortions is no longer subject to question.
The opportunity for the plaintiffs to seek further review from the U.S. Supreme Court has passed, so the Sixth Circuit’s ruling stands and the legal battle is over.
More than six years ago, a group of abortion providers challenged the statutory waiting period, alleging that it violated a woman’s right to have an abortion.
The district court agreed with the challengers, held the law unconstitutional, and stopped state officials from enforcing it. After a divided three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit declined to stay that judgment pending the State’s appeal, the State’s attorneys sought and obtained review by the full Sixth Circuit.
In August the full Court reversed the district court’s judgment and that of its own panel. It upheld Tennessee’s waiting-period, concluding that it “is facially constitutional” because it is “supported by a rational basis” and “is not a substantial obstacle to abortion for a large fraction of women seeking pre-viability abortions in Tennessee.”
The Court explained that the Supreme Court’s decision in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, which upheld Pennsylvania’s similar waiting-period law, “compel[led] this result saying the waiting period “resulted from a decades-long democratic process” that included a state constitutional amendment.
“This law was on the books for five years before the district court enjoined it,” said General Slatery. “The Sixth Circuit took the unusual step of having the full court review the district court decision and that of its own panel. We are grateful that the Court recognized the validity of a law passed by the people’s representatives and did not substitute its own judgment for the policy decision made by the legislature and the governor.”
This waiting period law was the first piece of legislation for which Tennessee Right to Life advocated after the passage of Amendment 1 in 2014. It allows women to take time to consider the damaging effects of an abortion and to choose positive alternatives for themselves and their unborn children.
“Tennessee Right to Life fought hard to see this law enacted so that abortion-minded women could have adequate time and information to thoughtfully discern before making such a life-altering decision,” said Will Brewer, legal counsel and lobbyist for Tennessee Right to Life. “We know for a fact that this law is saving lives, and we are grateful that it will continue to save lives. Finally, we are grateful to the Attorney General’s office for so zealously defending the voices of the people of Tennessee.”
Tennessee Right to Life is Tennessee’s oldest and largest pro-life organization.