U.S. Supreme Court abortion ruling likely to impact TN laws

By Travis Loller, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The U.S. Supreme Court’s Monday ruling on abortion restrictions in Texas could affect the outcome of a federal court challenge to two Tennessee laws.

“It seems like this will be a slam-dunk in Tennessee,” said Ilene Jaroslaw, an attorney with the Center for Reproductive Rights, which represents plaintiffs in both states.

The Tennessee laws under challenge “are indistinguishable in practice from the two that were judged unconstitutional in Texas,” she said.

In the Texas case, the Supreme Court struck down laws requiring abortion clinics to meet hospital-like standards and requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.

Tennessee’s admitting privileges requirement became law in 2012 and resulted in the closure of two of Tennessee’s eight clinics that provided surgical abortions, according to court records. Of the six remaining clinics, two face possible closure because of the strict new clinic standards adopted by the legislature in 2015.

Tennessee Attorney General spokesman Harlow Sumerford said in a written statement that the office is reviewing the Supreme Court ruling and evaluating what is applicable to the Tennessee case.

The Tennessee suit also challenges a third law that was not considered by the Supreme Court in the Texas case. It requires women seeking abortions to receive mandatory counseling and then wait 48 hours before they can get the abortion.

Jaroslaw said she expects the mandatory waiting period to be struck down on the basis of the reasoning in the Texas case.

“The decision sets forth a clear standard for judging these laws,” she said. “You can’t just say it promotes women’s health with no evidence. You can’t just limit abortion under a pretext or sham law.”

In August, U.S. District Judge Kevin Sharp temporarily ordered the district attorneys general in Bristol and Nashville not to enforce the clinic standards law against the Bristol Regional Women’s Center and The Women’s Center, in Nashville.

That’s because the two clinics have said they are trying to comply with the standards but have been stymied by state agencies that were unprepared to implement the new requirements.

Those two clinics along with the Memphis Center for Reproductive Health brought the Tennessee lawsuit.

Jaroslaw said her office will reach out to the court this week to set a new hearing in the case.

State Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet, who sponsored the law requiring hospital-like standards for clinics, expressed her disappointment with the Supreme Court’s decision in a written statement.

“I am firmly committed to making sure that life is protected and that women are not put into risky medical situations,” she said. “That’s what we will continue working toward in the General Assembly.”