July 2, 2015
Two laws passed by the Tennessee General Assembly in the wake of the passage of Amendment 1 last November, giving the Legislature more authority to regulate abortion, took effect on Wednesday, July 1.
However, both laws have been challenged in a federal lawsuit, and U.S. District Judge Kevin Sharp has issued a stay halting the implementation of one of the laws.
Last November, Tennessee voters approved an amendment to the Tennessee Constitution restoring the state Legislature’s authority to regulate the abortion industry. In the session that began in January, the General Assembly passed two laws affecting the abortion industry:
• Implementing a 48-hour waiting period on procuring an abortion; establishing requirements for informed consent; and providing a medical emergency exception.
• Requiring facilities or physician offices where more than 50 abortions are performed in a calendar year to be licensed as ambulatory surgical treatment centers.
The Catholic Public Policy Commission, which lobbies the state Legislature on behalf of the three Catholic dioceses in Tennessee, worked for passage of the two laws.
Two abortion clinics, the Women’s Center in Nashville and the Bristol Regional Women’s Center, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Nashville challenging the requirement they be licensed as ambulatory surgical treatment centers.
Judge Sharp issued a temporary restraining order to keep the state from enforcing the law because the two clinics did not have enough time to comply.
According to the lawsuit, the state refused to issue ambulatory surgical center licenses to the two abortion clinics until they submitted a set of architectural plans, renovated their buildings as needed, and passed a site inspection. The Tennessee Department of Health didn’t make the license application available until 15 days before the law took effect, the lawsuit states.
“It is simply not possible to complete this process in the time available before the law takes effect,” Judge Sharp ruled.
The federal lawsuit, which was filed by Adams & Boyle P.C., which operates the two abortion clinics, and Dr. Wesley Adams, who performs abortions at both clinics, was joined by the Memphis Center for Reproductive Health.
The lawsuit also challenges two other laws: the 48-hour waiting period and a 2012 law requiring abortion doctors to have hospital admitting privileges.
A hearing on the lawsuit and the temporary restraining order is scheduled for Thursday, July 9, in Nashville.
The battle over abortion laws in Tennessee is also being fought in other states.
On June 29, the U.S. Supreme Court, on a 5-4 vote, blocked enforcement of a Texas law with new requirements on abortion facilities. Clinics that would close because of the law can stay open while the high court considers whether to hear an appeal of a ruling upholding the law by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The law requires abortion facilities to meet the same health and safety standards as facilities that provide other outpatient surgeries. The law also prohibits abortion after 20 weeks and says that RU-486 and other abortion pills can only be dispensed by a doctor.
In a June 9 ruling, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the constitutionality of the law, and rejected pleas by abortion clinics to suspend its implementation while it is appealed. The Supreme Court ruling prevents enforcement of the law until the fall when the high court will decide if the justices should hear an appeal from a lower court.
A June 30 statement from the Texas Catholic conference, the public policy arm of the Texas Catholic bishops, said the bishops “grieve for the unborn children who will continue to die, and are concerned for the mothers who will subjected to substandard care, while the court delays until the fall to resolve this issue.”
“While the Texas Catholic Conference opposes abortion, it equally values protecting and preserving the health of women, whose lives and dignity are just as precious as those destroyed by the act of abortion,” the statement said.
“Short of closing these abortion facilities, abortionists must meet the most rigorous, mandatory standards of medical inspections and regulation,” the statement added.
A Kansas District Court judge June 25 granted a temporary injunction against Kansas’ Unborn Child Protection from Dismemberment Abortion Act, which was to take effect July 1.
The law bans the dilation and evacuation abortion procedure -- which pro-life advocates describe as “dismemberment” -- that is commonly used during the second trimester of pregnancy.
“Today’s injunction leaves unborn children vulnerable to painful death by dismemberment,” said Mary Spaulding Balch, National Right to Life’s director of state legislation.
“The fact that the practice of dismembering an innocent, living unborn child is legally protected killing should outrage people everywhere,” she said. “Dismembering living unborn children needs to be outlawed.”
The law allows the procedure when it is necessary to protect the life or health of the mother.
Based on model legislation from National Right to Life, the measure was passed overwhelmingly by both houses of the Kansas Legislature earlier this year and was signed into law by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback.
The Center for Reproductive Rights filed suit against the law. The injunction blocking it will stay in place while the judge, Shawnee County District Court Judge Larry Hendricks, considers the lawsuit further.