News Abortion

Tennessee Lawmakers Propose Slate of Anti-Choice Bills, Despite GOP Warnings

Teddy Wilson

Tennessee lawmakers have introduced multiple anti-choice bills in the wake of a constitutional amendment approved by voters that permits state lawmakers to pass laws regulating abortion.

Tennessee lawmakers have introduced anti-choice bills in the wake of a constitutional amendment approved by voters that permits state lawmakers to pass harsh measures meant to restrict abortion and reproductive health access.

Tennessee’s 2015 anti-choice proposals have become commonplace in Republican-controlled state legislatures that have served as pipelines for abortion regulations. The incoming anti-choice measures come as some Tennessee Republican leaders caution against a no-holds-barred approach to restricting abortion.

Lawmakers in the state have introduced HB 2 and HB 13. HB 2, sponsored by Rep. Rick Womick (R-Rockvale), would force women seeking to terminate a pregnancy to receive an ultrasound before they have an abortion. SB 13, sponsored by state Sen. Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet), would reinstate the state’s forced counseling law that was struck down in 2000 by a state Supreme Court ruling.

The court ruled against laws that required a 24-hour waiting period before an abortion, mandated inspections for abortion clinics, and forced counseling for women seeking an abortion.

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Sen. Mark Green (R-Clarksville) introduced SB 50, which would require both medical and surgical abortion care to be performed in a “licensed ambulatory surgical treatment center.”

Green, who has already introduced 15 bills, is reportedly a possible candidate for governor in 2018. Gov. Bill Haslam (R) was elected to his second term in November, and is term-limited in the next election cycle.

Allison Glass, state director of Healthy and Free TN, told the Memphis Flyer that the new ambulatory surgical center requirement is unnecessary and is “specifically designed to make care more expensive for individuals and to make it harder for health professionals to provide services.”

Glass said the legislation targets private abortion providers who don’t have an ambulatory surgical center license, even though they already adhere to professional standards required for those providing surgical or outpatient care.

The majority of the state’s abortion clinics are already licensed as ambulatory surgical treatment centers. Both Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region and the CHOICES Memphis Center for Reproductive Health would already meet the requirement.

Tennessee anti-choice lawmakers have passed multiple laws attempting to institute additional licensing requirements and regulations of abortion clinic facilities. Many of these laws have been ruled unconstitutional in state courts, including the Supreme Court ruling in 2000.

Despite these rulings, Tennessee still restricts access to abortion, including a ban on the use of telemedicine to provide abortion and restrictions on low-income women’s access to abortion.

“The simple fact is that abortion is a safe and well-regulated procedure with well-established, evidence-based guidelines for care. We urge legislators to oppose politically motivated bills like this one that are based on inaccurate claims about safety and that in reality push care out of reach for many women,” Glass said.

More anti-choice legislation is likely to be introduced.

Rep. Susan Lynn (R-Mt. Juliet) is reportedly preparing to introduce bills designed to tighten the state’s abortion regulations. Lynn told the Lebanon Democrat that the Tennessee Right to Life is working with an unnamed law firm to draft legislation that would reinstate the laws struck down by the state supreme court ruling in 2000.

In an email sent to supporters, Tennessee Right to Life officials outlined their 2015 legislative strategy to restore previously passed anti-choice laws that were struck down by state court rulings in 2000 and 2002.

“There are likely to be other bills floated but the focus of pro-life leadership is going to be limited to restoring these common-sense provisions which are both constitutionally proven and enjoy broad public support among Tennesseans on both sides of the abortion debate,” Brian Harris, president of Tennessee Right to Life, wrote in the email.

Some state lawmakers have cautioned against focusing too much on restricting abortion.

House Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville), who was re-elected as speaker over HB 2 sponsor Womick, told the Nashville Tennessean that the legislature should take up a limited amount of abortion restrictions in 2015.

“I’ve made it quite clear to my members I don’t want them to introduce things that are constitutionally suspect. I want us to be reasonable and not do anything to outlaw abortion,” said Harwell.

Haslam said that state policymakers should be wary of pushing their anti-choice agenda too far in the 2015 legislative session.

“I think anything we do, we should pay attention to what’s been ruled legal or not in other states,” Haslam told the Chattanooga Times Free Press. “Let’s not go charging up hills that other folks have charged up and have found were outside the law.”

The aggressive move to restrict abortion has motivated reproductive rights activists to action. Last week, reproductive rights advocates rallied outside the capitol in Nashville to oppose anti-choice legislative efforts. Upwards of 800 people attended the protest in below freezing weather.

Gloria Johnson, an activist who organized the march, told ThinkProgress that the strong showing is an indicator of the size of the opposition to anti-choice legislation. “I think it’s an indication there are a lot of people who are going to be heavily involved in this movement,” Johnson said.

SB 50 awaits committee assignment, as the state senate has yet to announce committee appointments.

News Law and Policy

Pastors Fight Illinois’ Ban on ‘Gay Conversion Therapy’

Imani Gandy

Illinois is one of a handful of states that ban so-called gay conversion therapy. Lawmakers in four states—California, Oregon, Vermont, and New Jersey—along with Washington, D.C. have passed such bans.

A group of pastors filed a lawsuit last week arguing an Illinois law that bans mental health providers from engaging in so-called gay conversion therapy unconstitutionally infringes on rights to free speech and freedom of religion.

The Illinois legislature passed the Youth Mental Health Protection Act, which went into effect on January 1. The measure bans mental health providers from engaging in sexual orientation change efforts or so-called conversion therapy with a minor.

The pastors in their lawsuit argue the enactment of the law means they are “deprived of the right to further minister to those who seek their help.”

While the pastors do not qualify as mental health providers since they are neither licensed counselors nor social workers, the pastors allege that they may be liable for consumer fraud under Section 25 of the law, which states that “no person or entity” may advertise or otherwise offer “conversion therapy” services “in a manner that represents homosexuality as a mental disease, disorder, or illness.”

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The pastors’ lawsuit seeks an order from a federal court in Illinois exempting pastoral counseling from the law. The pastors believe that “the law should not apply to pastoral counseling which informs counselees that homosexuality conduct is a sin and disorder from God’s plan for humanity,” according to a press release issued by the pastors’ attorneys.

Illinois is one of a handful of states that ban gay “conversion therapy.” Lawmakers in four states—California, Oregon, Vermont, and New Jersey—along with Washington, D.C. have passed such bans. None have been struck down as unconstitutional. The Supreme Court this year declined to take up a case challenging New Jersey’s “gay conversion therapy” ban on First Amendment grounds.

The pastors say the Illinois law is different. The complaint alleges that the Illinois statute is broader than those like it in other states because the prohibitions in the law is not limited to licensed counselors, but also apply to “any person or entity in the conduct of any trade or commerce,” which they claim affects clergy.

The pastors allege that the law is not limited to counseling minors but “prohibits offering such counseling services to any person, regardless of age.”

Aside from demanding protection for their own rights, the group of pastors asked the court for an order “protecting the rights of counselees in their congregations and others to receive pastoral counseling and teaching on the matters of homosexuality.”

“We are most concerned about young people who are seeking the right to choose their own identity,” the pastors’ attorney, John W. Mauck, said in a statement.

“This is an essential human right. However, this law undermines the dignity and integrity of those who choose a different path for their lives than politicians and activists prefer,” he continued.

“Gay conversion therapy” bans have gained traction after Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teenager, committed suicide following her experience with so-called conversion therapy.

Before taking her own life, Alcorn posted on Reddit that her parents had refused her request to transition to a woman.

“The[y] would only let me see biased Christian therapists, who instead of listening to my feelings would try to change me into a straight male who loved God, and I would cry after every session because I felt like it was hopeless and there was no way I would ever become a girl,” she wrote of her experience with conversion therapy.

The American Psychological Association, along with a coalition of health advocacy groups including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Counseling Association, and the National Association of Social Workers, have condemned “gay conversion therapy” as potentially harmful to young people “because they present the view that the sexual orientation of lesbian, gay and bisexual youth is a mental illness or disorder, and they often frame the inability to change one’s sexual orientation as a personal and moral failure.”

The White House in 2015 took a stance against so-called conversion therapy for LGBTQ youth.

Attorneys for the State of Illinois have not yet responded to the pastors’ lawsuit.

News Law and Policy

Anti-Choice Group: End Clinic ‘Bubble Zones’ for Chicago Abortion Patients

Michelle D. Anderson

Chicago officials in October 2009 passed the "bubble zone" ordinance with nearly two-thirds of the city aldermen in support.

An anti-choice group has announced plans to file a lawsuit and launch a public protest over Chicago’s nearly seven-year-old “bubble zone” ordinance for patients seeking care at local abortion clinics.

The Pro-Life Action League, an anti-choice group based in Chicago, announced on its website that its lawyers at the Thomas More Society would file the lawsuit this week.

City officials in October 2009 passed the ordinance with nearly two-thirds of the city aldermen in support. The law makes it illegal to come within eight feet of someone walking toward an abortion clinic once that person is within 50 feet of the entrance, if the person did not give their consent.

Those found violating the ordinance could be fined up to $500.

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Harassment of people seeking abortion care has been well documented. A 2013 survey from the National Abortion Federation found that 92 percent of providers had a patient entering their facility express personal safety concerns.

The ordinance targets people seeking to pass a leaflet or handbill or engaging in “oral protest, education, or counseling with such other person in the public way.” The regulation bans the use of force, threat of force and physical obstruction to intentionally injure, intimidate or interfere any person entering or leaving any hospital, medical clinic or health-care facility.

The Pro-Life Action League lamented on its website that the law makes it difficult for anti-choice sidewalk counselors “to reach abortion-bound mothers.” The group suggested that lawmakers created the ordinance to create confusion and that police have repeatedly violated counselors’ First Amendment rights.

“Chicago police have been misapplying it from Day One, and it’s caused endless problems for our faithful sidewalk counselors,” the group said.

The League said it would protest and hold a press conference outside of the Planned Parenthood clinic in the city’s Old Town neighborhood.

Julie Lynn, a Planned Parenthood of Illinois spokesperson, told Rewire in an email that the health-care provider is preparing for the protest.

“We plan to have volunteer escorts at the health center to make sure all patients have safe access to the entrance,” Lynn said.

The anti-choice group has suggested that its lawsuit would be successful because of a 2014 U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled a similar law in Massachusetts unconstitutional.

Pam Sutherland, vice president of public policy and education for Planned Parenthood of Illinois, told the Chicago Tribune back then that the health-care provider expected the city’s bubble zone to be challenged following the 2014 decision.

But in an effort to avoid legal challenges, Chicago city officials had based its bubble zone law on a Colorado law that created an eight-foot no-approach zone within 100 feet of all health-care facilities, according to the Tribune. Sidewalk counselor Leila Hill and others challenged that Colorado law, but the U.S. Supreme Court upheld it in 2000.

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