Tennessee’s Medically Unsound ‘Abortion Reversal’ Law Remains Blocked By Federal Courts

Court Blocks “Abortion Reversal” Law That Would Force Doctors to Lie to Patients

February 26, 2021 7:00 pm

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NASHVILLE — A federal court in Tennessee issued a preliminary injunction today blocking a state law that would have forced doctors to provide false and misleading information to their patients about the potential to “reverse” a medication abortion; the unproven claim has no basis in credible medical research. This injunction comes after the court issued a temporary restraining order against the law last year.

This law was an attempt by politicians to erode the trust between patients and their providers by forcing doctors to lie to patients and share misinformation that isn’t backed up by credible science. Had it gone into effect, providers would have been forced to share misinformation with patients — telling them it may be possible to “reverse” a medication abortion — at least 48 hours in advance of providing a medication abortion and again after the patient has taken the first medication, as well as post signs throughout their health centers informing patients about abortion “reversal” in large, bold print. Providers who refused to comply would have faced criminal prosecution for a Class E felony, punishable by up to six years in prison, and health centers would have faced a $10,000 daily fine for failure to display the required signs.

“Reversal” laws are opposed by leading medical organizations, including the American Medical Association (AMA), the Society of Family Planning, and the American College for Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). In fact, the AMA is a party to a lawsuit in North Dakota challenging a similar “reversal” law.

In today’s preliminary injunction ruling, Judge William Campbell, Jr., U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, said: “In the Court’s view, misleading an undecided patient into beginning a procedure that may have unalterable consequences by suggesting she can ‘reverse’ it later is not a result desired by either side.”

Statement from Rebecca Chan, staff attorney at the ACLU:
“This law is a medically baseless, shameful attack on access to abortion. Patients should be able to trust that the information from their medical providers is based on science, not politics. Today’s ruling puts patients’ well-being first and keeps politicians out of the exam room, where they certainly don’t belong.”

Statement from Thomas H. Castelli, legal director of the ACLU of Tennessee:
“This decision is a victory for patients, ensuring that they can continue to receive factual and clear information from their personal doctors while our lawsuit proceeds. Everyone should be able to get the care they need, including an abortion, without politicians interfering and trying to force physicians to mislead patients. We will continue to fight this dangerous law until it is struck down for good.”

Statement from Ashley Coffield, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi:
“Today’s decision is a win for all patients — they deserve medically accurate information when making decisions about their health. This law has always been about shaming patients and stigmatizing abortion. Planned Parenthood will always fight for our patients who deserve access to safe, legal abortion no matter who they are or where they live. The truth matters to our patients and today truth and science prevailed.”

Statement from Michelle Moriarty, Staff Attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights:
“This law is a disturbing free speech violation, and we are glad the court recognized that today. Doctors have free speech rights — just like everyone does — and forcing them to lie to their patients violates those rights. Patients should be able to trust that their doctors are giving them accurate, relevant information that is supported by reliable medical evidence. There is no such thing as abortion ‘reversal’ and we cannot have patients making health care decisions based on false information.”

Tennessee has numerous additional abortion restrictions on the books, including a ban on the use of telehealth for medication abortion; a currently enjoined mandatory 48-hour waiting period (which includes a requirement that forces patients to delay care by adding a medically unnecessary trip to the health center to receive state-mandated information); limits on when private and public insurance can cover abortion services; and a requirement that minors obtain parental consent.

Since 2015, politicians across the country have passed similar laws trying to force providers to promote the unsupported idea that a medication abortion can be “reversed” — a debunked claim based on junk science and peddled by anti-abortion researchers. In 2019, courts blocked similar laws in North Dakota and Oklahoma.

The lawsuit was brought by Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi, Knoxville Center for Reproductive Health, Memphis Center for Reproductive Health (“CHOICES”), and carafem represented by Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the Center for Reproductive Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the ACLU of Tennessee.

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