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A Tennessee City Banned Surgical Abortion Within the City Limits. We’re Taking Them to Court.

A demonstrator with a sign with the text "Protect Abortion Access"
The Mt. Juliet ordinance is yet another attack by hostile politicians on reproductive rights.
A demonstrator with a sign with the text "Protect Abortion Access"
Melissa Grant,
Chief Operating Officer,
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December 18, 2019

For 30 years, I have worked in reproductive health care. In my current role as Chief Operating Officer of carafem, a nonprofit with a national network of health centers, I know the difference compassionate and comprehensive reproductive health care makes in the lives of our clients. I have witnessed the personal impact when people who have the legal right to have a child or to have an abortion are denied those rights due to outrageous societal barriers. Abortion providers are used to opposition, but we’ve never experienced the kind of explicit targeting we received from politicians in the city of Mt. Juliet, Tennessee. It took the local politicians less than 48 hours after we opened our doors to try and shut us down, but after serving the community for the past nine months with services limited by politics, today, we’re fighting back in court.

At carafem, we strive to expand access to compassionate and convenient abortion care as well as other reproductive health care services. With offices in three different states, we served clients in the Atlanta, Washington D.C., and Chicago communities. Late in 2018 we learned that many people in Tennessee were forced to drive hours to reach an abortion care provider, as we started to see many clients from Tennessee at our health center in Atlanta, Georgia. We decided then that carafem needed to bring services to central Tennessee so we looked for space in the area to open our fourth health center. Soon thereafter, we found an accessible location in the Nashville suburb of Mt. Juliet, where we could provide medical services in a private, secure, and professional environment.

We quickly learned that our presence was not welcomed by city government when we were met with open hostility by local politicians. But, unlike many politicians who seek to restrict access to abortion, Mt. Juliet’s public officials did nothing to even attempt to hide their intent or political agenda. Instead, they promised loud and clear to do whatever they could to prevent individuals from exercising their legal right to abortion.

One city commissioner stated, “The members of the commission I have talked to are 100 percent behind shutting this abomination down.” Another said, “I was disgusted to hear they plan to open in my district and my town. If there is anything we can legally do to keep them from opening in Mt. Juliet, we will do it.”

These politicians immediately followed through on their threats. As soon as Mt. Juliet’s zoning commission got word that we had opened a health center, it convened and amended its zoning code to treat surgical abortion care providers differently from all other medical services. In effect, the new ordinance makes it impossible for us to offer surgical abortion care within city limits.

We are still able to provide medication abortion in Mt. Juliet and have provided care to hundreds of clients in this office — but medication abortion isn’t an option for everyone, and we’ve been forced to turn away many clients who need aspiration, or surgical, abortion care. The provision of aspiration abortion is central to carafem’s mission of ensuring full access to reproductive health care. 

It’s clear that this ordinance is yet another attack by hostile politicians on reproductive rights. If this zoning ordinance remains in place, Mt. Juliet politicians will have prevented us from providing comprehensive care options to our clients and will have denied our clients the right to choose what is medically best for them. Those seeking a procedure will be forced to travel elsewhere to access the kind of abortion care they want or need — care that we could otherwise provide.

This is not just wrong — it’s illegal. We are filing this lawsuit with the ACLU because we will not be intimidated. The people of central Tennessee deserve access to safe, comprehensive abortion care — rather than having their options limited by some political agenda. Mt. Juliet officials have tried their best to stop us, but we have decided to fight.

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