Tennessee defends abortion reversal law in legal challenge
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A Tennessee law requiring doctors to inform women that drug-induced abortions may be reversed is critical for women who may change their minds halfway through the procedure, the state’s top legal chief said.
Last month, abortion rights groups filed a lawsuit arguing the newly approved statute violated several constitutional rights because it not only illegally singled out abortion patients and physicians who provide the procedure, but also forced doctors to relay a “controversial government-mandated message.”
The complaint specifically seeks to block the law before it goes into effect on Oct. 1 as the groups pursue their legal battle.
However, Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery’s office has since responded by citing several women who say they wanted more information about their options when they underwent the procedure.
“Here, the challenged law does not hinder patients from obtaining an abortion. Instead, it merely provides patients with additional information about the abortion procedure itself and advises them about the availability of potential remedies should they change their mind between taking the first and second abortion pill,” Slatery wrote this week in court documents.
A drug-induced abortion, also called a medical abortion, involves taking two drugs. The first — mifepristone — thins the lining of the uterus and loosens the connection between the embryo and the uterine lining. The second — misoprostol — softens and opens the cervix and causes contractions to push out the pregnancy.
A medical abortion reversal involves giving a woman progesterone after the first step of a medical abortion. Progesterone is a hormone that thickens the uterine lining and inhibits contractions.
Multiple medical groups across the country have cited potentially flawed science and ethical concerns surrounding the reversal procedure. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has said there is no medically accepted evidence that a drug-induced abortion can be interrupted.
According to the state, doctors are not required to promise women that their medical abortions can be reversed, only that it “may be possible” that the “intended effect” could be reversed.
The state included testimony from Carrie Beth Dunavant, who says she changed her mind after pursuing a medical abortion and taking the first pill, mifepristone, in 2016. Court documents show that Dunavant, from Erin, Tennessee, began searching online for options and ran across the “Abortion Pill Rescue hotline” — which eventually instructed her to connect with a doctor and get a prescription for progesterone.
“I am actually pro-choice, and I think the requirement that abortion providers tell mothers that they may be able to reverse the abortion procedure if they don’t take the second pill gives women more options,” Dunavant wrote. “To be truly pro-choice, you have to allow women to know their options so they can make an informed choice.”
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit include Planned Parenthood, the Center for Reproductive Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union. These same groups are also involved in the initial lawsuit challenging a separate statute that bans abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected — about six weeks into pregnancy, before many women know they’re pregnant.