Mark Humphrey / AP

Tennessee lawmakers pass abortion restrictions

Gov. Haslam likely to sign bills requiring ambulatory surgical center license for abortion clinics, 2-day waiting period

Legislation that would place licensing restrictions on Tennessee's seven abortion clinics was overwhelmingly approved by state lawmakers on Tuesday and sent to the governor, who's expected to sign the bills into law.

Under one of the bills, facilities or physician offices would have to be licensed as ambulatory surgical treatment centers if they perform more than 50 abortions per year. All of the state's clinics fall into that category, and four of the clinics do not meet the licensing standards, according to the Tennessean newspaper.

Speaking after the House voted 79-17 in favor of the bill, Brian Harris, president of Tennessee Right to Life, said it's "a common sense requirement that abortion facilities be licensed and inspected the same as any other ambulatory surgical center."

The House vote came a week after the Senate passed the bill 28-4.

Also Tuesday, the House voted 79-18 for another bill that would require a 48-hour waiting period before an abortion could be performed, unless there's a medical emergency.

The Senate passed the bill 27-5. However, an amendment was added to the House version, so it heads back to the Senate for concurrence before going to Republican Gov. Bill Haslam.

The governor’s spokesman Dave Smith said Haslam would 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.

If signed, Tennessee would join 22 states that require abortion providers to meet ambulatory surgical center standards and 26 states that have waiting periods, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports access to abortion.

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) opposes legislation calling for mandatory counseling delays or requirements for abortion facilities, calling them “medically unnecessary.”

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 bills came after voters approved a constitutional amendment in November giving state lawmakers more power to regulate abortions.

Supporters of the Tennessee bills say they support the welfare of women seeking abortions and do not aim to deny them access to abortions.

"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.

“This bill interferes with the doctor-patient relationship and adds pointless burdens to women that do nothing to improve their health and safety,” Ashley Coffield, chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood’s regional office in Memphis, said Tuesday in a release.

“It will delay an abortion until later in pregnancy, perhaps limiting a woman’s options. And it will mean unnecessary costs that will weigh more heavily on poor women,” she said. “I’m sorry politicians in our state are burdening and shaming women who want to exercise their legal right to a safe abortion, rather than honestly helping improve women’s health.”

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

Al Jazeera and wire services

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