(MT. JULIET) Neighboring Mt. Juliet in Wilson County is being sued by the ACLU for banning surgical abortions within the city limits.
The law firm of Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP brought suit against the city of Mt. Juliet, Tennessee in federal court Wednesday (12/18/2019) over a zoning ordinance that bans the provision of surgical abortion care within the city limits.
The challenge is being brought on behalf of carafem, a national network of reproductive health care clinics. Carafem currently provides medication abortion care in Mt. Juliet, and intended to expand its practice to include surgical abortion. When the city learned of these plans, municipal officials quickly passed a zoning ordinance to directly obstruct the clinic's ability to provide the care. The law has already forced carafem to turn patients away who are not candidates for medication abortion, and will push abortion care out of reach for yet more Tennesseans if the law is not struck down.
Mt. Juliet officials have been clear that the sole reason for passing this ordinance was to stop people who have decided to have an abortion from being able to get one. In a statement to local news, City Commissioner Brian Abston explained: "I realize they have rights, but my constituents and I don't want it here." Another city commissioner, Ray Justice, said "The members of the commission I have talked to are 100 percent behind shutting this abomination down... This is not Mt. Juliet. This is not us."
"Officials in Mt. Juliet have made no pretense about their desire to obstruct their constituents' constitutional right to abortion care," said Andrew Beck, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. "This ordinance does nothing to protect the health or safety of patients -- it is singularly focused and politically motivated by an anti-abortion agenda. This ordinance is unconstitutional, and we will do everything we can to see it struck down."
"At carafem, we strive to expand access to compassionate and convenient abortion care as well as other reproductive health care services. When we opened a reproductive health care and family planning center in the Nashville metro area to serve the people of Tennessee, we were quickly met with opposition," says Melissa Grant, chief operating officer of carafem. "Today, we are filing this lawsuit with the ACLU to fight not only against an unfair, obstructive zoning ordinance, but to stand up for Tennesseans who deserve access to safe, comprehensive abortion care, regardless of their political or social opinion."
"No matter how someone feels about abortion, it is not their place to judge someone else's decision to end their pregnancy. When a person has made that decision, they should be able to get the care they need without facing unnecessary obstacles," said Thomas H. Castelli, legal director of the ACLU of Tennessee. "Mt. Juliet politicians passed this targeted ordinance solely to interfere with a woman's personal decision-making. We cannot allow those who want to put abortion completely out of reach to implement another law that stands in the way of necessary, constitutionally-protected health care."
Carafem is represented by Elizabeth Gray and Heather Schneider of Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP, Andrew Beck at the ACLU, and Thomas H. Castelli at the ACLU of Tennessee.
The complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee can be found at: https://www.aclu-tn.org/wp-