Federal Court Blocks Tennessee’s Clinic Shutdown Law

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Measure would have forced two more clinics in the state to close
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(PRESS RELEASE) A federal district court judge today blocked a Tennessee measure which forces reproductive health care facilities that provide more than 50 surgical abortions per year to meet the same building requirements as a hospital-like ambulatory surgical treatment center (ASTC)—a Texas-style provision that could amount to an expensive tax on abortion services and threatens to shutter two of the remaining six clinics providing surgical abortion in the state. 

Chief Judge Kevin H. Sharp ruled from the bench during a temporary injunction hearing this afternoon—agreeing to block the measure while the case proceeds—following a new lawsuit filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights yesterday. 

The lawsuit also challenges another clinic shutdown law which took effect in 2012—and has already forced two clinics in the state to close—as well as the newly enacted requirement that would force women to delay care by 48 hours and make two trips to their health care provider in order to obtain safe and legal abortion services.  The plaintiffs asked the court to immediately block the ASTC requirement to ensure all existing clinics can continue to offer safe and legal care as the legal challenge to all three restrictions proceeds.

“Tennessee women have been granted a temporary reprieve from the tidal wave of clinic shutdown laws sweeping the South,” said Stephanie Toti, Senior Counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights.  “We will continue to stand with the women of Tennessee, and their health care providers, to ensure no clinic is forced to shut its doors due these sham regulations.” 

Stephanie Toti and Ilene Jaroslaw of the Center for Reproductive Rights, Thomas C. Jessee of Jessee &, Jessee, and Scott P. Tift and David Garrison of Barrett Johnston Martin &, Garrison, LLC filed today’s challenge in federal district court in Nashville on behalf of Bristol Regional Women’s Center, The Women’s Center (Nashville), and Memphis Center for Reproductive Health d/b/a Choices.

Similar clinic shutdown laws have devastated abortion access in the region, particularly in Texas, which also passed an admitting privileges and ambulatory surgical center (ASC) requirement for physicians providing abortion in 2013.  The Center for Reproductive Rights challenged Texas’ clinic shutdown law and is currently awaiting a decision from the U.S Supreme Court on whether the court will suspend a recent ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit which threatens to shutter all but nine abortion clinics in the state.

Mandatory delay requirements for women needing reproductive health care swept the South this legislative session.  On June 11, the Center for Reproductive Rights—along with the American Civil Liberties Union—filed a state challenge to a Florida measure which forces a woman to wait at least 24 hours and make at least one additional trip before she is able to receive safe, legal abortion. 

Waiting periods can create a variety of burdens on a woman who needs to end a pregnancy—from stigmatizing women and abortion providers, to requiring additional trips to the clinic, which means additional travel time, transportation costs, child care, and time off work.  Women of color, low-income women, rural women, and women in abusive relationships already face challenges when they seek health care services, and waiting periods only increase these barriers.  Additionally, mandatory waiting periods can lead a woman to delay the abortion to later in pregnancy, which can increase the risks of the otherwise extremely safe procedure. 

Today’s filing comes less than seven months after a 2014 ballot initiative in which voters narrowly approved a radical constitutional amendment designed to strip Tennessee women’s rights to safe and legal abortion.  Fewer than 12 percent of Tennessee citizens voted in favor of the drastic measure.

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