Restrictions for Tennessee's 7 abortion clinics head to governor

Friday, April 17, 2015, Vol. 39, No. 16

NASHVILLE (AP) - Legislation that would place licensing restrictions on all seven of Tennessee's abortion clinics was overwhelmingly approved by state lawmakers Tuesday and sent to the governor, who's expected to sign them into law.

Under the measure, facilities or physician offices would have to be licensed as ambulatory surgical treatment centers if they perform more than 50 abortions in a year. All of the state's clinics fall into that category.

Brian Harris, president of Tennessee Right to Life, said after the House voted 79-17 in favor of the measure that it's "a common sense requirement that abortion facilities be licensed and inspected the same as any other ambulatory surgical center." The House vote comes a week after the Senate passed the legislation 28-4.

Also Tuesday, the House voted 79-18 for a proposal that would require a 48-hour waiting period before an abortion, unless there's a medical emergency. The Senate passed the measure 27-5.

An amendment was added to the House version, so it heads back to the Senate for concurrence before going to Republican Gov. Bill Haslam.

Haslam spokesman Dave Smith said the governor will likely sign the bills into law.

"Like he does with all legislation that comes to him, he'll review the bills in their final form before taking any action, but I anticipate he'll sign them," Smith said in an email to The Associated Press.

At least 35 states have passed measures similar to the proposals Tennessee lawmakers approved Tuesday.

The Tennessee bills aim to restore abortion laws that were struck down by a state Supreme Court decision in 2000. In that ruling, the justices threw out the waiting period, along with requirements that clinics provide detailed information about the procedure and that all but first-term abortions be performed in hospitals.

The latest abortion proposals came after voters approved a constitutional amendment in November giving state lawmakers more power to regulate abortions.

Supporters of the Tennessee proposals say they support the welfare of women seeking abortions and are not intended to prevent them from getting an abortion.

"This bill does not restrict an abortion," said Republican Rep. Matthew Hill of Jonesborough, who sponsored the waiting-period bill. "We are making all ... facts and information available to the women in order to make a careful and fully informed decision."

Opponents say the proposals, particularly the one requiring a 48-hour waiting period, place an undue burden on women who may have to pay travel expenses to get to one of the state's abortion clinics. There are three in East Tennessee, and two each in Middle and West Tennessee.

Under the proposal, women would have to be "in person" when a doctor talks to them about the risks of an abortion, or pregnancy, and sign a consent form.

Democratic Rep. John Ray Clemmons of Nashville proposed an amendment that would allow the consent process be done by phone, but the measure failed.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press.