Oct. 15 (UPI) -- A federal judge in Tennessee has struck down the state's 2015 law requiring patients to wait 48 hours after visiting a clinic to have an abortion performed, calling the rule "gratuitously demeaning to women" who have chosen to undergo the medical procedure.
Judge Bernard Friedman ruled Wednesday in favor of state reproductive health providers and their patients who argued the mandatory waiting period was unconstitutional as it violates the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment.
"Defendants' 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," Friedman, a President Ronald Reagan appointee, said in his ruling.
The Memphis Center for Reproductive Health and others had filed the complaint in June 2015 against the law requiring a patient seeking an abortion to receive information in-person from an attending physician and then wait at least 48 hours before undergoing the procedure.
The defendants, named as Tennessee's Attorney General Herbert Slatery III, argued the waiting period was legal as it neither constituted "a substantial obstacle" or "an undue burden" on women, pointing to a 1992 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in favor of a 24-hour wait period in Pennsylvania as precedent.
Friedman wrote that unlike the Supreme Court case, plaintiffs in this case clearly demonstrated how the mandatory waiting period is a substantial obstacle before those seeking the medical procedure.
"Plaintiffs in the present case have proven with overwhelming evidence that the 48-hour waiting period (in addition to serving no legitimate purpose) severely burdens the majority of women seeking an abortion," he wrote in his harshly worded 136-page ruling. "As noted above, the waiting period has this effect because it significantly delays this time-sensitive medical procedure, and also makes it so time-consuming, costly and inconvenient to obtain that the predominantly low-income population seeking the service must struggle to access it, if they can access it at all."
He added that the rule was especially burdensome for low-income women who are the vast majority seeking the medical procedure while undermining the doctor-patient relationship.
Rebecca Terrell, executive director of CHOICES Memphis Center for Reproductive Health, cheered the decision Wednesday in a statement.
"We are so glad that we can now schedule our patients for care in a manner that centers their needs, not the political vagaries of our state government," Terrell said.
Samantha H. Fisher of the attorney general's office said in a statement they are "disappointed" in the ruling and evaluating next steps, including filing an appeal.
Will Brewer, legal counsel and legislative liaison for Tennessee Right to Life, said the law was drafted with the constitution in mind.
"We have no doubt that the Sixth Circuit will swiftly overturn Judge Friedman's ruling," he said in a statement.
The Center for Reproductive Rights, which represented the plaintiffs in the case, said it is challenging waiting period laws in Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, Oklahoma and North Carolina.
"We hope today's decision serves as a wake-up call to lawmakers trying to interfere with patients' personal medical decisions," Autumn Katz, senior counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement. "Patients do not need politicians to dictate their decision-making process. Patients should be trusted to make decisions about their own families and healthcare."
According to research and policy organization the Guttmacher Institute, 26 states have mandatory wait periods before an abortion can be performed.