A federal judge says women can still get surgical abortions while Gov. Bill Lee’s executive order is in place limiting non-essential medical procedures.
In a ruling issued Friday night, Judge Bernard Friedman wrote that barring abortions during the COVID-19 pandemic “creates an undue burden on the right of women in Tennessee to choose to have a pre-viability abortion.”
The Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the American Civil Liberties Union and its local Tennessee chapter filed an emergency motion earlier this week urging the courts to exempt surgical abortions from the governor’s executive order. The groups argued that “[t]iming is critical” when it comes to abortion. The longer women wait, they said, the more expensive, medically risky or even unlawful it can be.
The lawsuit also cited statements from leading national health care organizations, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Nurses Association, which called abortions “essential,” “time-sensitive” and “urgent.”
Bernard said the abortion rights groups proved in their motion that the executive order causes women “irreparable harm.”
“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,” Bernard wrote.
Medication abortion has still been available in Tennessee in recent weeks. However, only women who are less than 11 weeks pregnant are typically eligible for the pill-induced procedure. Surgical abortions, which are offered through week 19 of pregnancy, have been put on pause throughout the state since Lee signed the executive order.
Hedy Weinberg, the executive director of the ACLU of TN, said in a statement that Friday’s ruling would ensure that women “can continue to make their own decisions about pregnancy and parenting based on what is best for their families.”
“Abortion is time-sensitive essential health care and the COVID-19 crisis cannot be used to prevent women from obtaining abortions,” she said. “Especially during a pandemic, it is crucial that women have access to a full range of health services, including abortion, to ensure their health and wellbeing.”
Attorney General Herbert Slatery plans to appeal the federal court’s decision. The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.