WASHINGTON — In a ruling that could have direct implications for Tennessee abortion restrictions, the Supreme Court has struck down Texas' widely replicated regulation of abortion clinics in the court's biggest abortion case in nearly a quarter century.
The justices voted 5-3 Monday in favor of Texas clinics that protested the regulations as a thinly veiled attempt to make it harder for women to get an abortion in the nation's second-most populous state.
Justice Stephen Breyer's majority opinion for the court held that the regulations are medically unnecessary and unconstitutionally limit a woman's right to an abortion.
Texas had argued that its 2013 law and subsequent regulations were needed to protect women's health. The rules required doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and forced clinics to meet hospital-like standards for outpatient surgery.
Tennessee has two similar laws.
In 2012, state lawmakers enacted a requirement that physician performing abortion in Tennessee must obtain hospital admitting privileges. The law forced the closure of the Volunteer Women's Medical Clinic in Knoxville in 2012 after the retired obstetrician who had performed abortions there could not obtain hospital privileges.
In 2014, lawmakers passed a law requiring all abortion clinics providing 50 or more surgical abortions to meet the requirements of ambulatory surgical care centers.
Both laws are being challenged in federal court by three Tennessee clinics, but the U.S. District Court in Nashville agreed to stay the case proceedings in the case until the Supreme Court ruled on the Texas challenge.
"The standards expected to be addressed by the Supreme Court will be critical for developing and evaluating the relevant evidence in this case," lawyers for the state and clinics noted in their joint request for a temporary halt to the proceedings, which was granted by U.S. District Senior Judge Kevin Sharp.
The three clinics are also challenging a 2015 Tennessee law requiring a 48-hour waiting period for women obtaining an abortion. The Supreme Court on Monday did not address waiting periods in its decision.
The Tennessean is seeking comment from lawyers for the Tennessee Attorney General, which is defending the laws in federal court, and lawyers representing three clinics who filed suit. The clinics are The Women's Center in Nashville and the Bristol Regional Women's Center — both owned by the same physician — as well at the CHOICES - Memphis Center for Reproductive Health.
There are six abortion providers in Tennessee that are required to meet ambulatory surgery center rules, which include a lengthy list of building, medical, staff and inspection specifications.
Four clinics were already licensed as ambulatory surgical treatment centers, or ASTC's, before the law went into effect on July 1, 2015. A seventh abortion provider does not perform surgical abortion, instead providing medication abortions, and is not required to be regulated as an ASTC.