The U.S. Supreme Court's decision to strike down two abortion restrictions in Texas will likely have major ramifications for similar regulations in Tennessee, both sides in the debate said Monday.
Opponents of abortion in Tennessee say the court's 5-3 decision represents a major setback for their cause and will probably mean taking a new approach to regulating abortions in the state. Abortion rights supporters add that Tennessee may have a harder time now defending its own restrictions, which are being challenged in a federal court in Nashville.
There were two laws in question: One required that doctors performing abortions have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. The second, that all abortion clinics meet the standard of a surgical center, with highly specific regulations.
Texas argued that both laws made the procedure safer. But the Supreme Court said it saw no evidence that the laws were about health. Instead, the court said, they put an "undue burden" on women because so many clinics couldn't meet the requirements and closed.
State Senator Mark Green, R-Clarksville, was one of the lawmakers who sponsored legislation to require clinics to become surgical centers. He’s also a physician and believes the court got it wrong.
“Having taken care of abortions that have gone bad — either women bleeding, women who have retained products and then getting septic — I think this is a bad decision of the Supreme Court.”
Green says he, for one, is eager to take another crack at regulations next year.
But advocates say abortion is actually less risky than giving birth, and the Supreme Court agreed. Its decision suggests any state regulations — those in place now or passed in the future — have to provide a greater medical benefit than the burden they impose.
"After this case, it's going to be very easy to demonstrate that the law has no benefit to women's health," says Suzanna Sherry, a law professor at Vanderbilt.
The high court's ruling only applied directly to Texas's laws, and Sherry says there are nuances that make every abortion lawsuit different. For instance, in Tennessee, fewer abortion clinics have closed because of the restrictions, which lessens the burden.
But Sherry thinks the argument made by the Supreme Court would lead to Tennessee's laws getting struck down.
"Maybe in Tennessee [it] won't be as drastic [as] a clinic closing, or maybe there won't be as much overcrowding," she says, "but those burdens, however minimal they are, still have to be outweighed by the health benefits."
The attorney general's office isn't saying yet whether it will keep defending the laws in court. Rather, a spokesman says they're reviewing the Texas ruling and will evaluate what's applicable here.
The suit filed in Nashville also challenges the state's 48-hour waiting period for an abortion — a requirement that was not even mentioned in the Texas decision. The last time the Supreme Court weighed in on such a law was in 1992, when they upheld a 24-hour waiting period in Pennsylvania.