New Lawsuit Challenges Three Tennessee Laws that Threaten to Close Abortion Clinics, Force Women to Delay Care

Texas-style clinic shutdown laws would further devastate abortion access in Tennessee, across the South

(PRESS RELEASE) The Center for Reproductive Rights filed a new lawsuit in federal district court today challenging three unconstitutional Tennessee measures designed to close reproductive health care clinics and make abortion harder to obtain.

Today’s lawsuit challenges two clinic shutdown laws, including one passed in 2012 requiring all doctors providing abortion care in Tennessee to obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital—a measure that has already forced two clinics in the state to close.

The new legal challenge also seeks to block a new requirement that would force 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.

Further, Tennessee health care providers today challenged 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.

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam signed the ASTC requirement and mandatory delay—both slated to take effect on July 1—in May 2015.  The plaintiffs are asking 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 already suffered under the laws passed by politicians to choke off access to safe and legal abortion, and it’s time for the court to step in before greater damage is done,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights.  “Through sham regulations and efforts to interfere in women’s personal, private decisions, politicians are trying to sneak around the Constitution and deny women the right to safely and legally end a pregnancy. We are asking the court to defend women’s rights and access to safe, legal, essential health care before another clinic is forced to close.”

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 today on behalf of Bristol Regional Women’s Center, The Women’s Center (Nashville), and Memphis Center for Reproductive Health d/b/a Choices.

“Tennessee women deserve the same access to abortion as women living in any other state,” said Rebecca Terrell, Executive Director of Choices.  “Whether by forcing a woman to delay health care or advancing measures targeting reproductive health care clinics for closure, Tennessee politicians are fixated on coming between women and their health care providers.  The women of Tennessee deserve better than copycat legislation which has decimated access to safe and legal abortion for millions of women across the country.”

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% of Tennessee citizens voted in favor of the drastic measure.

Donate Now