Federal Court Permanently Blocks Clinic Shutdown Laws in Tennessee

Center for Reproductive Rights secures major victory for Tennessee women 9 months after Supreme Court issues historic ruling striking Texas’ similar clinic shutdown laws. Tennessee continues to defend unconstitutional 48 hour mandatory delay for women seeking safe, legal abortion

A federal district court permanently blocked two of Tennessee’s Texas-style clinic shutdown laws today after the state dropped their defense of the measures, ensuring both restrictions will remain permanently blocked.  Today’s judgment comes 9 months after the Supreme Court issued its historic ruling in Whole Woman’s Health v Hellerstedt--which struck Texas’ nearly-identical clinic shutdown laws as unconstitutional and reaffirmed a woman’s right to safe, legal abortion--and less than a month after Mississippi abandoned their defense of its clinic shutdown law.    

Today’s order does not apply to the 2015 requirement forcing Tennessee 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 Center for Reproductive Rights will continue to challenge Tennessee’s unconstitutional and demeaning mandatory delay law, which has been in effect since 2015.

 “Today Tennessee officials finally saw the writing on the wall and gave up their defense of these two baseless restrictions on safe and legal abortion,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. 

“Whether in Texas or Tennessee or elsewhere, these sham restrictions on women’s constitutional right to safe, legal abortion cannot stand.

“The Center for Reproductive Rights will continue to harness last summer’s historic Supreme Court victory to ensure women across the country can get the care they need.” 

Specifically, today’s judgment blocks a 2015 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 threatened to shutter two of the remaining six clinics providing surgical abortion in the state.  It also blocks a requirement forcing Tennessee abortion clinics to have on staff a doctor with admitting privileges at a local hospital—a measure which took effect in 2012 and had already forced two clinics in the state to close

"Today's victory is great news for people who have made the decision to end a pregnancy in Tennessee," said Rebecca Terrell, Executive Director of Choices and one of the plaintiffs in this challenge.   

"Our patients should never be forced to scale unnecessary and politically motivated hurdles when they need safe and legal health care.  Tennessee politicians should take note: we will continue to fight unjust laws and stand up for all people and their right to comprehensive reproductive health care." 

The Center for Reproductive Rights, Scott P. Tift and David Garrison of Barrett Johnston Martin & Garrison, LLC, and Thomas C. Jessee of Jessee & Jessee challenged the two clinic shutdown laws and mandatory delay in 2015 on behalf of Bristol Regional Women’s Center, The Women’s Center (Nashville), and Memphis Center for Reproductive Health d/b/a Choices.  A federal district court temporarily blocked the ASTC requirement from going into effect in June 2015, ensuring all existing clinics could continue to offer safe and legal care as the legal challenge to all three restrictions proceeded. 

Abortion restrictions like Tennessee’s have continued to fall around the country since last summer’s landmark Supreme Court victory in Whole Woman’s Health.  Nearly identical laws in Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Alabama have all been permanently blocked after the nation’s highest court found Texas’ clinic shutdown laws unconstitutional.