Part of Tennessee abortion law blocked by federal judge


Gov. Bill Lee on Monday signed into law the state’s wide-ranging abortion ban banning abortions after the point a fetal heartbeat can be detected along with other restrictions.

Nashville Tennessean

A federal judge this week temporarily blocked a section of Tennessee’s new abortion law requiring doctors to share controversial information about medication abortions, saying there is evidence the law might violate the First Amendment.

U.S. District Judge William L. Campbell, Jr. issued the ruling Tuesday, two days before that portion of the law was set to go into effect.

Campbell said in legal filings that his order blocking the law could remain in place for months while legal arguments for and against a longer term preliminary injunction are under consideration.

Among other things, the new state law requires clinics to notify patients that medication abortions, which are induced by pills, may be reversible. Providers who fail to do so could face criminal felony charges.

Abortion providers sued the state in federal court to block the law, saying it unconstitutionally required them to share “false and misleading” information with their patients.

In a filing last week, Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk, one of the named defendants, said he wouldn’t enforce the provision because he considers it unconstitutional.

Related: Nashville DA Glenn Funk won’t enforce Tennessee abortion law, says it’s unconstitutional

There is no conclusive medical proof such that it is possible to reverse medication abortions, called “chemical abortions” in the legislation.

Abortion providers said they have experts ready to testify such a reversal is not possible. The state points to research from doctors suggesting it could be possible.

Campbell said he would consider testimony from dueling experts at a hearing. In the meantime, he said, the abortion providers had justified blocking the law temporarily.

Related: Gov. Bill Lee signs controversial Tennessee abortion restriction measure into law

Campbell said his decision was guided in part by the fact that the law requires providers to refer patients to the Tennessee Department of Health for more information on reversing medication abortions despite the fact that the health department has yet to compile that information.

“With this built-in delay, (the law) requires abortion providers to tell patients that ‘information on and assistance with reversing the effects of a chemical abortion’ is available on the Department of Health website, when in fact, such information and assistance may not be available,” Campbell wrote.

“Consequently, the mandated message contains misleading information.”

A hearing to debate the provision is set for Oct. 13, although Campbell suggested he might push it back 90 days to allow both sides time to prepare.

The ACLU of Tennessee, which is representing abortion providers in the lawsuit, celebrated the ruling in a statement.

“This decision is a victory for patients, who rightfully expect factual and clear information from their personal doctors,” said Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the ACLU of Tennessee. “Politicians should not be allowed to force physicians to provide false and misleading information to their patients.”

Tennessee’s new abortion law is among the most restrictive in the country. It has been cheered by anti-abortion advocates and faced a barrage of criticism and legal fire from abortion rights advocates.

In addition to the requirement to discuss the reversal of medication abortions, the law places broad restrictions on when abortions can be performed.  In particular, the law bans abortions if a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which can be as soon as six weeks after conception.

Those abortion restrictions are the subject of another ongoing lawsuit.

Campbell, who is considering that case as well, already halted the implementation of other swaths of the law while legal challenges are underway.

Reach Adam Tamburin at 615-726-5986 and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @tamburintweets.

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