COVID-19 Special Coverage
Federal judge blocks Tennessee order to limit surgical abortions during COVID-19
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Federal judge blocks Tennessee order to limit surgical abortions during COVID-19

A federal judge on Friday blocked Tennessee Governor Bill Lee’s executive order to limit surgical abortions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Abortion providers, Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit after Lee promulgated Executive Order 25 on April 8. The order aimed to limit non-essential procedures to ensure abundant personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers treating COVID-19 patients. Though the order did not officially classify surgical abortions as non-essential, abortion providers feared that surgical abortions failed to qualify as essential procedures under the order.

Judge Bernard Friedman presided over the arguments Friday and issued his decision to block the order’s application to abortions. Friedman found that limited abortions did not help preserve PPE during the COVID-19 crisis:

But plaintiffs have provided evidence, which the Court accepts as accurate, that they have implemented sanitation procedures, as well as procedures to minimize the use of PPE, that they do not use N95 masks or other hospital resources needed to respond to COVID-19, and that a procedural abortion uses less PPE and involves significantly less patient interaction than carrying a pregnancy to term and giving birth. In addition, plaintiffs state that women may travel out-of-state to obtain an abortion while EO-25 is in effect, risking infection of COVID-19 and transmission to others when they return to Tennessee.  While the stated goal of EO-25 to preserve PPE is unquestionably laudable, defendants have presented no evidence that any appreciable amount of PPE would actually be preserved if EO-25 is applied to procedural abortions. Plaintiffs, on the other hand, offered convincing evidence demonstrating the contrary. The balancing of harms therefore favors plaintiffs.

Friedman additionally cited concerns over abortions rights in his decision. Lee has yet to comment on the decision.

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