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Tennessee has spent the past six years defending its 48-hour reflection period law in Bristol Regional Women’s Center v. Slatery. The law requires doctors to provide informed consent information at least 48 hours before performing an abortion, except in the case of a medical emergency. In August, the full Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the law, declaring, “Before making life’s big decisions, it is often wise to take time to reflect. The people of Tennessee believed that having an abortion was one of those decisions.”
Abortion providers have not asked the Supreme Court to review the case, and the filing deadline for seeking review now has passed. This means the case has become a strong pro-life legal precedent.
The Sixth Circuit found the reflection period law was rationally related to Tennessee’s interests in protecting unborn life and ensuring a woman’s consent is “informed and deliberate.” The law also did not pose a substantial obstacle to women seeking abortion in a large fraction of cases. The Sixth Circuit emphasized that for a law to be unconstitutional, “The obstacle must be significant – burdens and inconveniences are simply not enough.” Comparing the law to Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey’s constitutional 24-hour reflection period, the Sixth Circuit found Tennessee’s law was not an undue burden on women seeking abortion.
The Sixth Circuit notably upheld the law against the argument that the reflection period may push women past the ten-week gestational cutoff for medication abortions. According to the Sixth Circuit, “the Supreme Court ‘has not extended constitutional protection to a woman’s preferred method…of terminating a pregnancy,’” and women could still receive a surgical abortion.
Informed consent is a foundational principle of modern medicine. If abortion is legal “healthcare,” then it requires a woman’s informed consent. We celebrate Tennessee’s victory in ensuring women are fully informed and have time to reflect upon this grave decision.
You can read the Sixth Circuit’s en banc opinion here.