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Tennessee's Waiting Period Is On Trial As Abortion Rates And Providers Dwindle

Blake Farmer | WPLN

Tennessee’s two-day waiting period to get an abortion is on trial this week in Nashville's federal court, and abortion rights supporters say the stakes are much higher than when the law took effect four years ago.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled waiting periods of one day are constitutional, even they require two trips to the abortion clinic. But the abortion providers challenging Tennessee's law argue in a pre-trial brief that each previous case challenging a waiting period has depended on the circumstances in that state.

And those laws have had an effect. Heightened restrictions on abortion have run many providers out of business, meaning more women have to travel longer distances. Tennessee, for instance, is surrounded by states with waiting periods.

"In the South, it’s really hard for a woman to avoid a waiting period," says Ashley Coffield, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi. "No matter where you go, you’re going to have a forced delay."

In fact, a majority of states have waiting period laws, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

Researchers from Texas A&M University estimate Tennessee’s waiting period adds more than $900 to the cost of an abortion. The same paper argues that expense delays some abortions until the second trimester, when they’re riskier.

The state’s attorneys plan to argue only a small fraction of women face such a burden. They say in court filingsthe waiting period is working just as designed, because more than 2,000 women have declined abortions after their initial consultations.

Overall, abortion rates have dropped nationwide and in Tennessee. The extent to which abortion restrictions have factored into that trend is unclear. Abortion rates have fallen across the country, even in states that have not passed new restrictions.

Tennessee has experienced several closures. At one point in the last year, Nashville didn't have a single clinic. But a new provider in Mt. Juliet has launched in recent months. And the state of Tennessee's lawyers contend that Tennessee more or less has the same number of providers as before the waiting period took effect July 1, 2015.

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