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Appeals Court: TN Women Can Seek Abortions During Pandemic


Thursday, April 30, 2020   

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A judge in Nashville has ruled that as Tennessee flexes its power to temporarily ban non-emergency medical procedures during the coronavirus pandemic, it doesn't have the right to block a woman's access to abortion services.

The decision affirms a lower court ruling blocking an April 8 executive order by Gov. Bill Lee that included abortions on a list of non-emergency procedures.

Aimee Lewis, vice president of external affairs for Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi, says, while most women's wellness exams have been postponed, terminating a pregnancy is a time-sensitive procedure.

"Any delays have a possibility of imposing greater health risks for the pregnant woman," she stresses. "They could result in having to get an abortion at a later gestational age, which has more risks."

Lewis adds Tennessee's clinics have modified their operations and implemented new rules to protect both staff and patients from exposure to the coronavirus.

The lawsuit was filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee and other groups. The state has appealed the decision.

Tennessee's mandatory 48-hour waiting period already requires women seeking abortions to make two trips to a clinic. Lewis points out that potentially increases their odds of being exposed to the virus.

"By having to get in their car, or get on a bus or, you know, get child care -- all the things that are involved in that," she stresses.

Lewis emphasizes that, since the start of the pandemic, the region's Planned Parenthood clinics have seen no decrease in the number of women seeking to terminate pregnancies, or in patients seeking STI testing.

"The fact is, no one stops needing sexual and reproductive health care just because there's a public health crisis," she states. "And we're continuing to take care of those patients who come in our doors."

Tennessee is one of a handful of states that have pushed to limit abortion access during the pandemic, and similar lawsuits are ongoing in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Ohio, and Oklahoma.

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