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ACLU announces lawsuit in Tennessee over a city's pro-life zoning ordinance
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ACLU announces lawsuit in Tennessee over a city's pro-life zoning ordinance

'My constituents and I don't want it here'

Local officials in a Tennessee town are now facing a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union over efforts to keep surgical abortions from taking place in their town.

On Wednesday, the ACLU — along with the ACLU of Tennessee, and an international law firm — announced a federal lawsuit against the city of Mt. Juliet, Tennessee, over a zoning ordinance that prohibits the performance of surgical abortions within its city limits. An ACLU of Tennessee news release says that the lawsuit is brought on behalf of Carafem, a national network of abortion clinics.

The 25-page federal complaint says that the zoning provision is "unconstitutional" and "does not protect the health, safety, or welfare of Mt. Juliet citizens, and serves no legitimate governmental interest," but rather "simply prohibits Carafem from providing surgical abortions, in turn unduly burdening Tennesseans attempting to access abortion."

In the news release, Carafem chief operating officer Melissa Grant said, "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."

The abortion zoning controversy in the Nashville suburb started months ago, after Carafem opened its doors to the public in March and was met with some vocal pro-life objections.

"I was disgusted to hear they plan to open in my district and my town," city Commissioner Brian Abston told WTVF-TV at the time. "If there is anything we can legally do to keep them from opening in Mt. Juliet, we will do it. I realize they have rights but my constituents and I don't want it here."

Just days after that, city officials passed a zoning ordinance that made it illegal for the clinic to perform surgical abortions, thereby restricting them to providing only chemical abortions.

"All seven of the major city officials, they're all pro-life so it passed within six minutes," a local pastor told WZTV-TV.

But now the plaintiffs have made that pro-life response a big part of their case.

"Officials in Mt. Juliet have made no pretense about their desire to obstruct their constituents' constitutional right to abortion care," ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project senior staff attorney Andrew Beck said in a statement. He added that the ordinance was "singularly focused and politically motivated by an anti-abortion agenda" and "we will do everything we can to see it struck down."

Readers may remember Carafem from when the organization made headlines by opening a "spa-like" abortion clinic in the Washington, D.C., metro area in an effort to de-stigmatize abortion in 2015. The group is also known for its brash advertising that includes statements like "There's no shame in it" and "Abortion, yeah, we do that."

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