August 14, 2015 — A federal judge on Thursday issued a preliminary injunction that bars district attorneys in two Tennessee counties from enforcing an antiabortion-rights law (Pub. Ch. 419) requiring abortion clinics to be licensed as ambulatory surgical centers, the The Tennessean reports (Wadhwani, The Tennessean, 8/13).
The law, which was scheduled to take effect on July 1, would 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. A provider in Knoxville only provides medication abortion and, therefore, is 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 in June filed a lawsuit against three antiabortion-rights laws, including the ambulatory surgical licensing requirement, on behalf of three abortion clinics and an ob-gyn in the state. CRR filed suit on behalf of the Bristol and Nashville clinics; CHOICES, the Memphis Center for Reproductive Health; and Wesley Adams, an ob-gyn who provides abortion care at the Bristol and Nashville clinics.
The other antiabortion-rights laws challenged in the lawsuit include a 2012 statute requiring physicians who provide abortion care to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. The third contested law (SB 1222), which took effect July 1, imposes a mandatory delay and requires 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.
U.S. District Judge Kevin Sharp in June blocked the ambulatory surgical center requirement and in July extended the restraining order, allowing the two clinics to remain open. On Monday, he lifted the order and allowed the plaintiffs to amend their lawsuit to include the district attorneys in Nashville and in Sullivan County and to ask them to formally state that they will not prosecute the physicians (Women's Health Policy Report, 8/12). The Women's Center is located in Nashville, in Davidson County, while the Bristol clinic is located in Sullivan County (The Tennessean, 8/13).
Sharp said he would reassess his decision during an emergency hearing on Thursday if the district attorneys do not agree to submit such statements (Women's Health Policy Report, 8/12).
On Thursday, Sharp issued an order preventing the district attorneys from enforcing the new requirements.
Steven Hart, special counsel with the Tennessee attorney general's office, said the district attorneys did not intend to actively enforce the licensing law. However, neither district attorney was willing to file a statement confirming that they would not do so (The Tennessean, 8/13).