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Tennessee sued over law that requires health care providers to lie to patients

A total of 11 states now are pushing junk science about medication abortion ‘reversal’ — a procedure that doesn’t exist.

By Lisa Needham - September 04, 2020
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee

Over the summer, Tennessee rushed a package of anti-abortion measures through the legislature in the middle of a pandemic. Along with a six-week abortion ban, the state also passed a law that requires abortion providers to tell their patients who want medication abortions that the procedure is reversible. 

Now, several abortion providers in Tennessee are challenging the law.  Besides forcing doctors to engage in speech they don’t agree with, Tennessee’s law is also simply wrong about the science of medication abortion. 

The American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists both agree that medication abortion isn’t reversible and any claim that it is is “wholly unsupported by reliable scientific evidence.”

Anti-abortion activists have been pushing the junk science of medication abortion “reversal” based on faulty research for the last few years.

In 2015, Arkansas was the first to pass a law requiring abortion reversal “counseling.” Now, with Tennessee’s law, a total of 11 states have implemented some sort of mandate for such counseling, though litigation has blocked the enforcement of the bill in some of those states. 

Tennessee’s new law requires abortion providers to tell patients that “it may be possible to reverse the effects of the abortion if the pregnant woman changes her mind, but that time is of the essence.”

If the law’s purpose is to make sure that people want abortions and have thought it over, Tennessee already has multiple laws that require that. The state has a 48-hour waiting period with mandatory counseling about the risks of undergoing an abortion. 

Providers must also perform an ultrasound and show the images to the patient, describe those images in detail, and play the fetal heartbeat. The abortion providers suing the state over the law also point out they must follow Tennessee’s general informed consent law, including discussing the risks and benefits of a medical procedure to ensure the patient makes a well-informed decision and whether an abortion is right for them. 

After the lawsuit was filed, Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, issued a statement saying “[t]his medically unsound and factually inaccurate requirement is part of the coordinated war on truth and has no basis in science.”

McGill Johnson also talked about the fact that the Tennessee law imposes criminal penalties. “Adding insult to injury, threatening doctors with prison time makes this law that much more dangerous.” Doctors or clinic locations who violate the law could face both a felony criminal charge and a $10,000 civil penalty. 

If Tennessee’s law isn’t overturned, both patients and providers face real risks.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

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