A federal court of appeals upheld a decision Friday to allow abortion clinics to stay open in Tennessee, despite the state’s ban on “non-emergency” medical procedures due to concerns around COVID-19.
In early April, Gov. Bill Lee banned all abortion services other than those administered with a pill, which are only available until 11 weeks of pregnancy. The subsequent lawsuit, filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood and The ACLU, argued that abortions are an essential service and that Lee’s order put women at risk by delaying access to care or forcing them to travel long distances to receive abortion services.
A lower court then affirmed a preliminary injunction against the ban.
It its decision, the court wrote it did not “uphold an injunction against state action lightly,” and it understood that state’s needed flexibility to respond to the crisis. However, the court wrote, “affording flexibility … is not the same as abdicating responsibility, especially when well-established constitutional rights are at stake, as the right to an abortion most assuredly is.”
Tennessee is one of eight states where officials have attempted to limit abortions amid the coronavirus pandemic. Similar lawsuits are pending in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Ohio and Oklahoma.