In April 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Bill Lee issued an order that limits "non-emergency" health care procedures. Under this order, reproductive healthcare was deem as "non-emergency." While patients who were less than 11 weeks pregnant were still permitted to obtain medication abortions in the state, this order prohibited people from getting a procedural abortion.

Abortion is time sensitive, and people who are pregnant should still have acess to a full spectrum of reproductive healthcare. This order exploited the COVID-19 pandemic to undermine a person's fundamental right to access to abortion care.

We and our partners filed a lawsuit arguing that Tennessee's order violated Roe v. Wade and nearly 50 yeras of Supreme Court precedent protectingpeople's right to liberty and autyomony under the Fourteenth Amendment. The lawsuit also argued that forcing anyone seeking an abortion to travel out of state, or to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term and give birth, would increase the risk of spreading COVID-19 and undermine the state's asserted goal of preserving medical resources and limiting person-to-person encounters.

In mid-April, a federal district court in Tennesee granted an emergency motion allowing clinics to resume procedural abortions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the preliminary injunction granted by the lower court, allowing abortion clinics in Tennessee to continue providing time-sensitive abortion procedures during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tennessee also bands the use of telehealth for medication abortions--a method that could greatly expand access and reduce in-person contact.


Adams & Boyle, Memphis Center for Reproductive Health, Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi, Knoxville Center for Reproductive Health, Dr. Kimberly Looney


Herbert H. Slatery III, Lisa Piercey, M.D., W. Reeves Johnson, Jr., M.D., Glenn R. Funk, Amy Weirich, Barry P. Staubus, Charme P. Allen, William Lee, Rene Saunders, M.D.


ACLU-TN: Thomas H. Castelli

Center for Reproductive Rights: Autumn Katz, Genevieve Scott, Michele Moriarty

Planned Parenthood Federation of America: Maithreyi Ratakonda

ACLU: Julia Kaye

Date filed

April 21, 2020


United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee



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