Carafem Health Center in Mt. Juliet is now able to provide surgical abortions after a federal court order prompted city commissioners to lift restrictions on the procedure.
The Mt. Juliet Board of Commissioners is slated to hold a second and final vote at a special called meeting Friday to repeal an ordinance that effectively bans surgical abortion in the city.
The measure restricts surgical abortions to industrial zones, and originally included language that banned them within 1,000 feet of churches, schools and other facilities. It was later amended to 200 feet after the American Civil Liberties Union sued the city on behalf of Carafem in December 2019.
U.S. District Judge Eli Richardson granted the clinic a preliminary injunction on May 1, citing a substantial likelihood that the ordinance violates due process. The case is still awaiting trial, but the ruling prevents the city from enforcing the ordinance in the meantime.
Mt. Juliet Mayor Ed Hagerty said he is unable to comment on the ruling or the repeal ordinance because of pending litigation.
“At a time when access to safe and affordable healthcare is crucial, we are pleased that the federal court has stepped in to help us protect the reproductive health rights of women in Tennessee when they need it most,” Carafem’s Chief Operating Officer Melissa Grant said in a news release. “Carafem remains committed to making safe, comprehensive abortion care available in all of the communities we serve. We will continue to ensure that the health needs of women in the Nashville metro area are met while complying with all state and local laws.”
Others are concerned about the decision, including members of Tennessee Right to Life and its Wilson County chapter.
“Local citizens need to continue speaking up and showing up to peacefully protest the harm to women and the killing of unborn children,” Tennessee Right to Life President Brian Harris said. “It is clear that residents of Mt. Juliet do not want or deserve an abortion chain facility in their community. We should all remain committed to prayerful and peaceful resistance while offering life-affirming alternatives that spare the lives of children and the health of women.”
When the ordinance was originally passed in March 2019, commissioners indicated support for the restriction based on both anti-abortion positions and talks with community members.
“I was disgusted to hear they plan to open in my district and my town,” former District 4 Commissioner Brian Abston said before voting in favor of the ordinance. “I realize they have rights, but my constituents and I don’t want it here. I am pro-life so I will take any action possible within the law to make sure it’s not here.”
According to the injunction, Carafem had turned away any women seeking surgical abortions who were not eligible for medical abortions — which use pills and are effective until 10 weeks of pregnancy. The clinic has continued offering medical abortions throughout the legal proceedings.
“We are pleased that Mt. Juliet is taking the necessary steps to repeal this indefensible ordinance,” Grant said in a quote provided through the ACLU of Tennessee. “Carafem will continue to fight those who attempt to undermine the human right to decide if or when to have children. Under the court’s order, Carafem is permitted to provide surgical abortion care, and we are taking the necessary steps to offer those services to patients who need them.”