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Tenn. Abortion Clinics File Legal Challenge Against Three Antiabortion-Rights Laws

Tenn. Abortion Clinics File Legal Challenge Against Three Antiabortion-Rights Laws

June 26, 2015 — The Center for Reproductive Rights on Wednesday filed a lawsuit against three antiabortion-rights laws in Tennessee on behalf of three abortion clinics and an ob-gyn in the state, the Tennessean reports.

Background on Laws

One of the laws, enacted in 2012, requires physicians who provide abortion care to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. According to CRR's lawsuit, two clinics already have closed under the law.

Meanwhile, the two other laws are scheduled to take effect on July 1 (Wadhwani, Tennessean, 6/25).

One (SB 1280) of the new laws will require all facilities or physician offices that perform more than 50 surgical abortions annually to be licensed as ambulatory surgical centers. Four of the six abortion clinics in the state that provide surgical abortions currently meet the licensing standards, while a fifth provider, in Knoxville, only provides medication abortion and is, therefore, not subject to the requirement. The two remaining clinics that provide surgical abortions and are not licensed as ambulatory surgical centers are the Bristol Regional Women's Center and the Women's Center in Nashville (Women's Health Policy Report, 5/11).

The second new law (SB 1222) will require that women receive in-person counseling from a physician prior to having an abortion, forcing women to make an additional trip to the clinic prior to the abortion procedure. In the case of a medical emergency, the counseling requirement will be waived. Physicians who are found to violate the counseling requirement could be charged with a misdemeanor or felony and have their medical licenses revoked.

The second law also includes a "spring-back" provision that would reduce the delay to 24 hours if the measure is stayed or struck down by a court. In addition, the remainder of the law would stay in effect if any portion of the measure is found invalid (Women's Health Policy Report, 5/19).

Lawsuit Details

CRR filed suit on behalf of Bristol Regional Women's Center; the Women's Center in Nashville; CHOICES, the Memphis Center for Reproductive Health; and Wesley Adams, an ob-gyn who provides abortion care at the Bristol and Nashville clinics (Tennessean, 6/25). CRR is asking the court to block the ambulatory surgical center requirement while the lawsuit against all three laws continues (CRR press release, 6/25).

According to lawsuit, the Bristol and Nashville clinics risk closure because they do not meet the ambulatory surgical center standards. The plaintiffs said the state Department of Health blocked their efforts to comply with the law by not making the necessary application available until June 16 and then refusing to process the submitted applications until the clinics also provided renovation plans, finished the renovations and had the renovations pass state inspection. They said the requirements "could not possibly be completed" in the 15-day timespan between the application being made available and July 1, when the law is scheduled to take effect.

In addition, CRR asked the court to move up the first court date, which currently is scheduled for Aug. 24 (Tennessean, 6/25).