Tennessee high court finds abortion law unconstitutional

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The Tennessee Supreme Court struck down portions of the state's abortion law Friday as overly burdensome to women, including a two-day waiting period and mandatory counseling.

The other provisions that were held unconstitutional required that all second-trimester abortions take place in a hospital instead of a clinic, and established medical-emergency exceptions to the waiting period and counseling rule.

The provisions fail to accomplish the state's goal of protecting women and their unborn children, the justices wrote in a 4-1 decision.

Most women already have their minds made up before seeking an abortion, and the waiting period only increases the psychological and financial burden, the court said in its first-ever decision on the issue.

Justice William M. Barker said in a dissent that the high court's decision had no basis in legal precedent.

The waiting period and pre-abortion counseling requirements were adopted in 1978 and were in effect for only 18 months because of legal challenges.

The state argued that it had a ''significant interest in protecting the unborn'' and that counseling is offered for many surgical procedures besides abortion.

Planned Parenthood also challenged the 1973 provision requiring all second-trimester abortions to be performed in hospitals.

The high court struck down the medical emergency exceptions because it found they do not go far enough to protect the health of a woman who needs an abortion immediately.

Abortion opponents plan to campaign for a constitutional amendment and to oust state Supreme Court justices when they are up for re-election in 2006, said Brian Harris, president of Tennessee Right to Life.

''The court overruled the people of Tennessee today,'' he said. ''There are many women in other states who have children today who are very grateful they had 48 hours to rethink their decisions.''

Ron Beaver, interim chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee, said the court sent ''a clear and solid message that women have a constitutional right to abortion.''

''The decision really to have an abortion rests with the woman, her physician, her family - and not with the government,'' he said.


On the Net:

Planned Parenthood: http://www.plannedparenthood.org

ACLU: http://www.aclu.org


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