June 29, 2015 — A federal judge in Nashville on Friday temporarily blocked a Tennessee law (SB 1280) from taking effect this week that would require abortion clinics in the state to be licensed as ambulatory surgical centers, allowing two clinics to remain open, Reuters reports (Wisniewski/Bailey, Reuters, 6/26).
U.S. District Judge Kevin Sharp, who granted the preliminary injunction against the law, will decide whether to extend the delay at a July 9 hearing (Wadhwani, Tennessean, 6/26).
The law, which was scheduled to take effect on July 1, 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. Bristol Regional Women's Center and the Women's Center in Nashville are the two remaining clinics that provide surgical abortions and are not licensed as ambulatory surgical centers.
The Center for Reproductive Rights earlier this month filed a lawsuit against three antiabortion-rights laws, including the ambulatory surgical licensing requirement, in Tennessee on behalf of three abortion clinics and an ob-gyn in the state.
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. CRR asked the court to block the ambulatory surgical center requirement while the lawsuit against all three laws continues.
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 was scheduled to take effect (Women's Health Policy Report, 6/26).
Sharp granted a preliminary injunction, ruling in his order that "[i]t is simply not possible to complete this [clinic licensing] process in the time available before the law takes effect" (Reuters, 6/26). He also cited the "harm ... [to] the public [who] uses these services" if the clinics shut down because they did not have time to comply with the regulations.
The preliminary injunction does not apply to the two other laws being challenged, including an admitting privileges requirement enacted in 2012 and a 48-hour mandatory delay (SB 1222) that takes effect on July 1.
Scott Tift, an attorney who represents the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, called the injunction "a huge win for women in that neck of the state." According to Tift, women in Bristol seeking an abortion would have to travel more than 100 miles if the city's clinic were to close (Tennessean, 6/26).
Similarly, CRR attorney Stephanie Toti said, "Tennessee women have been granted a temporary reprieve from the tidal wave of clinic shutdown laws sweeping the South" (Reuters, 6/26).