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Federal judge rules in favor of Mt. Juliet abortion clinic

A clinic in Mt. Juliet is now providing surgical abortion services after a federal judge ruled against the City of Mt. Juliet’s attempts to prohibit the service. Elected city officials have voted on first reading to repeal the two zoning ordinances in question.

Carafem Health Center, an organization that provides abortion services, opened its doors in Mt. Juliet on March 1, 2019. Two days later, the Mt. Juliet Board of Commissioners held a special-called meeting to pass a ordinance that would limit surgical abortion services in the city to industrial zoning. Carafem, located in a commercial building in the Providence area, only offered medication abortion via pill but planned on expanding its services to include surgical abortion.

In February 2020, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and FemHealth USA, Inc. (carafem) brought a complaint against the City of Mt. Juliet for the zoning ordinance that would essentially prohibit the organization from providing surgical abortion services within city limits.

The complaint alleges that the ordinance “does not protect the health, safety, or welfare of Mt. Juliet citizens, and serves no legitimate governmental interest.” It goes on to say that prohibiting surgical abortions puts and undue burden on Tennesseans attempting to access abortion.

The original zoning ordinance the commission approved prohibited surgical abortion centers within 1,000 feet of any church, public or private school, college, public park or recreation facility, public library, child care facility or residential areas. After the ACLU and carafem announced the intention of a lawsuit in December 2019, saying no land within the city fit that requirement, the commission amended the zoning regulation from 1,000 feet to 200 feet.

On May 1, 2020, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction barring Mt. Juliet officials from enforcing the ordinances as it placed “undue burden” and a “substantial obstacle” in the way of women seeking abortions in Mt. Juliet.

“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,” said Melissa Grant, chief operating officer of carafem.

Grant said carafem will continue to meet the health needs of women in the Nashville area while complying with all state and local laws.

Mt. Juliet Mayor Ed Hagerty declined to comment.

The Mt. Juliet Board of Commissioners will have its final vote to repeal the two zoning ordinances limiting surgical abortion services within the city. An electronic public hearing and special meeting will be held Friday, May 29 at 5 p.m.

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