Lawsuit Challenges Nashville Suburb's Limits on Abortion Facilities
Will Brewer, the legislative lobbyist for Tennessee Right to Life, said, “It's tragic that as most Tennesseans are preparing to celebrate the birth of a child, pro-abortion activists are attacking the fundamental right to life."
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Pro-life advocates warned against efforts to expand abortion after backers of abortion provider Carafem filed a legal challenge against a Nashville suburb’s zoning regulations that limit surgical abortion facilities.
“Wilson County Right to Life is deeply saddened by the fact that Carafem is not only performing medical abortion, but is working toward expanding its abortion services to include surgical abortions in our community through this suit,” Trecia Dillingham, president of Wilson County Right to Life, said Dec. 19. “We regret that we now share the label of abortion destination along with four other Tennessee communities.”
The abortion provider Carafem opened in Mt. Juliet March 1. It said it would initially offer birth control and medical abortions up to 10 weeks into pregnancy. Carafem said it planned to offer surgical abortions in the future, The Tennessean reports.
Carafem’s website bears the motto “Abortion. Yeah, we do that.” It has three other facilities in the U.S., in Atlanta, the Chicago metro area, and the D.C. metro area.
Mt. Juliet, an eastern suburb of Nashville, has a population of about 35,000 people. The Carafem facility in Mt. Juliet is in a commercial zoning district in a medical pavilion with several medical providers.
Two days after the Mt. Juliet facility opened, city commissioners met at a specially called Sunday meeting March 3. They introduced an ordinance allowing surgical abortion clinics only in special industrial zones. The ordinance also provides that these abortion clinics cannot be located within 1,000 feet of any churches, parks, schools, libraries, child care facilities, or residential areas, the Associated Press said. Commissioners passed the ordinance unanimously in April.
The lawsuit charges that the ordinance is “a complete ban on surgical abortion clinics within the city limits of Mt. Juliet” both “in purpose and effect.” This illegally targets the constitutional right to an abortion, it argued. It cites city commissioners and the city’s mayor who said their motivations included opposition to abortion.
The lawsuit aims for a ruling that the ordinance is unconstitutional and seeks an injunction against its enforcement.
Backers of the lawsuit include the ACLU, the ACLU of Tennessee, and the law firm of Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP.
In discussions about the facility, former city Commissioner Brian Abstom told a local television station, “I am pro-life, so I will take any action possible within the law to make sure it’s not here,” the Associated Press reports.
Soon after the ordinance passed, Mayor Ed Hagerty said that zoning in general aims “to protect the health, safety and welfare” of city residents, The Tennessean reports.
Other pro-life advocates criticized the lawsuit.
“It's tragic that as most Tennesseans are preparing to celebrate the birth of a child, pro-abortion activists are attacking the fundamental right to life,” Will Brewer, the legislative lobbyist for Tennessee Right to Life, said Dec. 19. “This litigation underscores the paramount importance of carefully drafting public policies that can withstand the highest constitutional scrutiny.”
Thomas H. Castelli, the legal director of the ACLU of Tennessee, defended the lawsuit.
“No matter how someone feels about abortion, it is not their place to judge someone else’s decision to end their pregnancy,” Castelli said. “When a person has made that decision, they should be able to get the care they need without facing unnecessary obstacles.”
“Mt. Juliet politicians passed this targeted ordinance solely to interfere with a woman’s personal decision-making,” he said. “We cannot allow those who want to put abortion completely out of reach to implement another law that stands in the way of necessary, constitutionally-protected health care.”
The ACLU of Tennessee cited the remarks of City Commissioner Brian Abston, who said of the abortion facility: “I realize they have rights, but my constituents and I don’t want it here.”
His March statement to NewsChannel5 Nashville also said: “I was disgusted to hear they plan to open in my district and my town. If there is anything we can legally do to keep them from opening in Mt. Juliet we will do it.”
City Commissioner Ray Justice said that he has talked with commission members who are “100 percent behind shutting this abomination down.”
“This is not Mt. Juliet. This is not us,” he said.
The lawsuit claims that within two days of the clinic’s opening, it was completely booked for 30 days.
Nashville’s Planned Parenthood abortion facility temporarily halted abortions in December. The Carafem facility in Atlanta reported many more women traveling from Tennessee to get an abortion during this time, the lawsuit said.
About 8,600 abortions were performed in Tennessee in 2017, according to figures from the Tennessee Department of Health Services.
Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi is among the plaintiffs challenging Tennessee’s 2015 law requiring a 48-hour waiting period and mandatory in-facility counseling for a woman seeking an abortion. A federal judge has not made a ruling in that case, the Associated Press reports.
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