Judge Blocks Tennessee From Enforcing Clinic Shutdown Measure

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Judge Blocks Tennessee From Enforcing Clinic Shutdown Measure

Jessica Mason Pieklo

A ruling issued last week prevents regulators from enforcing a measure that forces some abortion clinics meet the same standards as mini-hospitals.

The fight over a series of regulations designed to close Tennessee abortion clinics drags on as a federal judge ruled last week that prosecutors in Davidson and Sullivan counties cannot enforce new standards against abortion providers in those counties.

The injunction issued by U.S. District Judge Kevin Sharp came as two abortion clinics, each owned by the same physician practice, work with state health regulators to comply with a requirement that all abortion providers in the state that perform 50 or more abortions annually meet architectural standards of an ambulatory surgical treatment center (ASTC), turning those facilities into mini-hospitals.

SB 1280 took effect July 1.

In late June and just before the measure took effect, a federal court temporarily blocked SB 1280 from applying to two clinics in Tennessee, the Bristol Regional Women’s Center in Bristol and the Women’s Center in Nashville, after attorneys from the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) filed a lawsuit on behalf of those clinics. CRR argued SB 1280 was unconstitutional and that regulators in the state had failed to give clinics enough time to comply with the requirements.

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Existing facilities were given 54 calendar days to get licensed under the new requirements, but the Tennessee Department of Health did not make the required application form available to the public until June 16. That left facilities 14 calendar days to become licensed, according to the plaintiffs.

Last week’s ruling effectively extends that order, blocking officials from enforcing the ASTC requirements against the Bristol and Nashville clinics while they both try to comply with the requirements and continue their underlying constitutional challenge to SB 1280.

The lawsuit filed on behalf of the clinics also challenges a requirement that doctors who perform abortions have hospital admitting privileges at area hospitals and a “delay requirement” that mandates an abortion patient attend an in-person meeting with a doctor to receive information and then wait at least 48 hours after the meeting before having an abortion. This latest ruling does not affect those provisions or claims.