Tennessee's New Anti-Abortion Waiting Period Law Forces Women To Wait Longer & The Situation Is About To Get Even Worse

A week after he signed a law that may close half of the state's remaining abortion clinics, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed into law another harsh anti-abortion provision that will impact how and when women can obtain abortions in the state. The new law establishes a mandatory 48-hour waiting period prior to any abortion procedure, including those that are pill-induced. Tennessee joins 26 other states in passing some sort of waiting-period legislation, though the state's latest measure will become one of the most far-reaching waiting periods around.

The law, which sailed through the state legislature, requires women seeking abortion to first seek in-person counseling at the clinic. There, doctors will have to read a state-mandated "informed consent" script to their patients, or else risk criminal charges. Among the state-mandated directives that doctors must read describes the "numerous public and private agencies and services are available to assist her during her pregnancy and after the birth of her child."

Once a patient receives the in-person counseling, she must wait 48 hours before returning to the clinic for the procedure — that means making two trips to the clinic, which may not be as easy for women who live in rural parts of the state. According to The Tennessean, many women travel 100 miles or more to reach their nearest abortion clinic. That journey may take even longer by July 1, when a law mandating abortion clinics to operate as licensed ambulatory surgical centers is enacted. Signed just a week ago by Haslam, the law could close two of Tennessee's remaining six clinics that provide surgical abortions (a seventh clinic only provides the abortion pill).

Women who need an abortion in a medical emergency are exempted from the waiting period, yet rape and incest victims still must wait the full 48 hours. An amendment adding an exemption for rape and incest victims was tabled by Tennessee Republicans in the House, with state Rep. Sheila Butt claiming that rape is "not verifiable." She also called rape exemptions "a loophole for the abortion industry."

The Tennessee Right to Life praised the new waiting period on Monday, calling it a "common-sense protection" for girls, women and the unborn. "Women and girls considering abortion in our state deserve relevant details and adequate time to make fully-informed decisions about the fate of their unborn child," Brian Harris, the group's president, said Monday in a statement.

But doctors and reproductive health advocates have condemned the 48-hour waiting period, which they claim is politically charged and not medically necessary.

“We all want women to have the information and support they need to make a carefully considered decision about a pregnancy. Planned Parenthood provides every woman with counseling, support and information about all of her options,” Ashley Coffield, president of Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region, said Monday in a statement sent to Bustle. “This bill would force abortions later in pregnancy for political — and not medical — reasons. While abortion is an extremely safe procedure, it’s safer the earlier it’s provided.”

Jeff Teague, president of Planned Parenthood Middle and East Tennessee, added, "Sadly, this bill is-disproportionately burdensome on women who already have the least access to care."

Images: Whole Women's Health Baltimore