Federal Judge bars two Tennessee district attorneys from enforcing law requiring abortion clinics to be regulated as ambulatory surgical facilities

By Dave Andrusko

U.S. District Judge Kevin Sharp

U.S. District Judge Kevin Sharp

U.S. District Judge Kevin Sharp today barred district attorneys in Davidson and Sullivan counties from enforcing a Tennessee law that requires abortion facilities that perform 50 or more abortions annually to meet the standards of an ambulatory surgical treatment center.

Brought by clinics in Bristol and Nashville, their owner, and CHOICES (the Memphis Center for Reproductive Rights), the temporary injunction is part of a broader challenge to the constitutionality of three Tennessee abortion laws: the aforementioned ambulatory surgical treatment center standards and annual inspections; a requirement that women receive in-person counseling from the abortionist; a law that provides a 48-hour waiting period for women and girls seeking an abortion after meeting with the abortionist; and a requirement that abortion providers have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.

On Monday Judge Sharp conditionally lifted a temporary restraining order that had stopped the state from enforcing the new abortion law, but warned that could change as soon as today. And it did.

But even though neither of the district attorneys had plans to actively enforce the new law, the injunction was issued today because “neither of the district attorneys were willing to submit a statement saying they would not enforce the law,” according to Anita Wadhwani of The Tennessean.

The clinics told Judge Sharp they are working to comply with the law and “are in the process of submitting building plans and taking necessary steps to gain a license that would allow them to meet those standards,” Wadhwani reported.

Pro-lifers were in the court in July when attorneys for the abortion facilities (owned and operated by the same abortion providers) and CHOICES told Judge Sharp the new state law mandating basic health and safety standards at abortion facilities would require “partial demolition” of their abortion facilities and a cost of “twenty to forty thousand dollars” at each location to bring their businesses up to standard. Pro-abortion lawyer Scott Tift urged Judge Sharp to provide “protection from closing their business.”

Tift claimed that the licensure statute could cause “irreparable harm” to abortion owners and called the pro-life law “disruptive, expensive and burdensome.”

Attorneys from the Tennessee Attorney General’s office pointed out that the sole intent of the legislation is to ensure health and safety standards at the facilities and argued that the law should not be enjoined in light of the likelihood of ultimate success on the statute’s merits.

At the end of the July 9 hearing, Judge Sharp extended his original temporary restraining order for 30 days and called for parties to return on August 10 to demonstrate any progress on resolving the conflict. He cautioned that there is “uncertainty on both sides” and ruled to maintain the current “status quo” in which the state is prevented from enforcing the licensure law.

Sharp noted that extensions of his restraining orders “won’t go on indefinitely.” As noted above, on August 10 he removed the the restraining order but reinstated it today.