Lawsuits Against Three Tennessee Antiabortion-Rights Laws on Hold Pending Ruling on HB 2
January 21, 2016 — Lawsuits against three Tennessee antiabortion-rights laws have been put on hold pending a U.S. Supreme Court decision on a "substantially similar"Texas omnibus antiabortion-rights law (HB 2), the Tennessean reports.
According to the Tennessean, the Supreme Court is expected to rule on the Texas lawsuit in June (Wadhwani, Tennessean, 1/20).
The Center for Reproductive Rights in June filed a lawsuit against three Tennessee antiabortion-rights laws, on behalf of three abortion clinics and an ob-gyn in the state. CRR filed suit on behalf of the Bristol Regional Women's Center and 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.
The first law (Pub. Ch. 419), which was scheduled to take effect on July 1, 2015, 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. The Bristol and Nashville clinics are the two remaining clinics that provide surgical abortions and are not licensed as ambulatory surgical centers.
The other antiabortion-rights laws challenged in the lawsuit include a 2012 statute (Pub. Ch. 1008) requiring physicians who provide abortion care to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. The third contested law (Pub. Ch. 473), which took effect July 1, 2015, 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 2015 blocked the ambulatory surgical center requirement and in July 2015 extended the restraining order, allowing the Bristol and Nashville clinics to remain open. In August 2015, Sharp lifted the order and allowed the plaintiffs to amend their lawsuit to include the district attorneys in Nashville and in Sullivan Counties, where the two clinics are located, and to ask them to formally state that they will not prosecute the physicians. Sharp later that month issued an order preventing the district attorneys from enforcing the new requirements (Women's Health Policy Report, 8/14/15).
Sharp on Wednesday granted a request filed jointly by attorneys for CRR and the state to temporarily suspend the lawsuits.
In their request, attorneys for CRR and the state wrote, "The standards expected to be addressed by the Supreme Court" in Whole Woman's Health v. Cole "will be critical for developing and evaluating the relevant evidence in this case."
According to the Tennessean, provisions challenged in the Texas law include an admitting privileges requirement and ambulatory surgical center building standards. While the Supreme Court is not considering a mandatory delay in the Texas lawsuit, the attorneys involved in the Nashville lawsuit said the high court's ruling "may well provide further guidance on how to apply the undue burden test that will bear on the constitutional analysis of this restriction" (Tennessean, 1/20).