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Appeals court upholds Tennessee law requiring 48-hour waiting period for abortions

"Before making life's big decisions, it is often wise to take time to reflect," the court's opinion reads. Opponents say the law is unfair to low-income women.

TENNESSEE, USA — A federal appeals court Thursday overturned a lower court ruling that struck down the controversial 48-hour wait for women to get an abortion in Tennessee.

The 2015 law affirmed by the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Cincinnati also requires women to make two trips to health providers, first for mandatory counseling and then for the abortion 48 hours later. 

Opponents of the law said that state-mandated counseling is often biased, and the district court said that the restrictions provide no benefit to patients. The court also said that the law makes abortions harder to access, especially for low-income women.

"The suggestion that women are overly emotional and must be required to cool off or calm down before having a medical procedure they have decided they want to have, and that they are constitutionally entitled to have, is highly insulting and paternalistic — and all the more so given that no such waiting periods apply to men," wrote U.S. District Court Judge Bernard Friedman in the decision that was reversed Thursday.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals said that opponents of the law failed to provide specific evidence that the law created a significant obstacle for enough women in the state for them to consider it unconstitutional.

To strike down the law, appellate judges said that opponents would need to provide evidence that it blocks a "large fraction" of women from obtaining an abortion. In the opinion, the judges said that although they never explained what legally defines a large fraction, the definition is often 'more conceptual than mathematical.'

"Before making life’s big decisions, it is often wise to take time to reflect," the court said in its opinion on Thursday. "The people of Tennessee believed that having an abortion was one of those decisions. So they passed a law requiring a waiting period of 48 hours."

Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery released a statement about the decision on Thursday. In it, he emphasized that he considers the law constitutional. The full statement is below:

“The Sixth Circuit’s decision is gratifying for several reasons. First, the result: a law passed by our representative lawmakers and signed by the Governor five years ago—yes, five years ago—is constitutional. It has been on the books a long time. The Court concluded that, during this time, the 48-hour waiting period has not been a substantial obstacle to getting an abortion in Tennessee. Second, the opinion was a reasoned analysis of the law and the lack of proof offered by the plaintiffs, rather than a decision based on policy. Also, this ruling comes after the full Court reconsidered an earlier decision by a three-judge panel of the same Court.”

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