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Judge hands abortion rights supporters a win in Tennessee

A federal judge handed abortion rights supporters a win in Tennessee Friday by blocking a statewide order banning surgical abortions during the coronavirus pandemic. 

U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman, a President Reagan appointee, said in an opinion released Friday evening that abortion is a time-sensitive procedure, CNN reported. The ruling will allow procedural abortions to continue during the pandemic for now. 

"Delaying a woman's access to abortion even by a matter of days can result in her having to undergo a lengthier and more complex procedure that involves progressively greater health risks, or can result in her losing the right to obtain an abortion altogether," he wrote.

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Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery III (R), Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R) and other officials filed a motion of appeal on Friday, the attorney general's spokeswoman Samantha Fisher told The Hill.

The governor issued an executive order banning non-emergency health care procedures, including abortions, until April 30 to reduce the spread of the coronavirus and preserve personal protective equipment (PPE). Violations could have resulted in a Class A misdemeanor and potential disciplinary action from the associated medical boards. 

Abortion rights groups and reproductive health care providers filed a lawsuit in response, saying the move was politically motivated. 

State officials said the procedures would lead to the “unnecessary use” of PPE “that are in extremely short supply, especially N95 masks,” CNN reported court documents said. 

Friedman ruled that the government did not show “any appreciable amount” of PPE would be saved by prohibiting abortion procedures. 

The plaintiffs, including Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi and the Knoxville Center for Reproductive Health, argued they have made efforts to reduce the use of PPE and to avoid using N95 masks. The judge ruled the plaintiffs showed an abortion used less PPE and less patient interaction than giving birth.

"The court's decision today ensures that women in Tennessee can continue to make their own decisions about pregnancy and parenting based on what is best for their families," Hedy Weinberg, the executive director of the ACLU of Tennessee, said in a statement obtained by CNN.

Other Republican governors have issued similar orders in their states, like in Texas, Ohio and Alabama, saying procedural abortions need to be postponed or canceled, which have also been challenged by lawsuits.