U.S. judge strikes Tennessee abortion law requiring 48-hour waiting period

(Reuters) - A U.S. federal judge on Wednesday struck down a Tennessee law requiring a 48-hour waiting period for abortions, saying it placed an unconstitutional burden on women.

FILE PHOTO: An abortion rights activist holds a sign in downtown Memphis during a "Stop Abortion Bans Day of Action" rally hosted by the Tennessee chapter of Planned Parenthood in Tennessee, U.S., May 21, 2019. REUTERS/Karen Pulfer Focht/File Photo

The law, which went into effect in 2015, required abortion providers to inform patients of the risks and wait at least 48 hours before proceeding, “to ensure that a consent for an abortion is truly informed consent.”

U.S. District Court Judge Bernard Freidman ruled in favor of several abortion clinics that sued the state in 2015.

“The statute imposes numerous burdens that, taken together, place women’s physical and psychological health and well-being at risk,” Freidman wrote in the decision. “The burdens especially affect low-income women, who comprise the vast majority of those seeking an abortion.”

Freidman’s decision was a victory for abortion rights advocates at a moment of heightened U.S. political controversy over abortion.

The Center for Reproductive Rights, an abortion rights advocacy group, is challenging similar waiting period laws in Arizona, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Oklahoma, it said on Wednesday.

In the 2019 Tennessee trial, doctors testifying for the abortion clinics said the law created unjustifiable logistical difficulties for women, particularly for those who had to take time off work and travel up to 100 miles (160 km) to the nearest abortion clinic on two separate occasions, 48 hours apart.

Witnesses for the state testified that the waiting period was necessary for decision making and that abortions could have adverse effects on women’s mental health.

The judge wrote in the opinion that the law did not further “the asserted state interests of protecting fetal life or benefiting women’s mental and emotional health.”

Samantha Fisher, a spokeswoman for Tennessee’s attorney general, said by email that the office was disappointed by the ruling and considering whether to appeal.

Ashley Coffield, president of Planned Parenthood’s Tennessee and North Mississippi chapter, said in a statement that the ruling was “a win for patients.”

Reporting by Gabriella Borter; Editing by Cynthia Osterman