- Associated Press - Sunday, June 7, 2015

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - In Tennessee, the number of abortions has been on the decline for years, dropping from 17,479 in 2000 to 16,373 in 2010 to 14,216 in 2013, the last year for which the state Health Department has statistics available.

That’s a 19 percent decline since 2000.

The state’s abortion laws have changed very little over that time. That’s because the state Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that the Tennessee Constitution provided strict protections for abortion. The ruling struck down laws requiring a two-day waiting period and mandatory physician-only counseling and preventing second-trimester abortions from taking place anywhere but a hospital.

The ruling also made it difficult for lawmakers to pass any new restrictions. But one law that passed in 2012 forced two of the state’s nine abortion clinics to close, according to Planned Parenthood of Middle Tennessee President and CEO Jeff Teague.

That law required abortion providers to have admitting privileges either in the county where the clinic was located or an adjoining county. Neither of the clinics that closed was a Planned Parenthood clinic, Teague said.

Last November, Tennessee voters approved an amendment to the state constitution that paved the way for stricter abortion regulations. With the constitution changed, the General Assembly went on to pass a new law requiring mandatory counselling for women seeking abortions and a 48-hour waiting period between the counselling session and the abortion.

Another new law requires all clinics performing 50 or more surgical abortions a year to be licensed as ambulatory surgical treatment centers. These centers must comply with more onerous standards for the physical building, operations and reporting than doctors’ offices. Teague said four of the state’s abortion clinics already are licensed this way and a fifth does not perform surgical abortions, only abortions by medication. But two of the state’s remaining clinics could close when the law goes into effect on July 1.

A lawsuit filed just days after the constitutional amendment passed last year challenges the way the votes were counted. That lawsuit is ongoing in federal court. If the court were to strike down the amendment, it could affect the new abortion restrictions that were passed this year.

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