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Federal appeals court won’t lift restraining order against Mt. Juliet abortion clinic protestors


Federal appeals court won’t lift restraining order against Mt. Juliet abortion clinic protestors

Oct 02, 2023 | 7:00 am ET
By Anita Wadhwani
Federal appeals court won’t lift restraining order against Mt. Juliet abortion clinic protestors
An anti-abortion protester with Operation Save America, left, squares off with abortion-rights during a July protest at the Tennessee Capitol. (Photo: John Partipilo)

In the weeks before Tennessee’s near-total ban on abortion took effect last year, about a dozen men with the anti-abortion group Operation Save America entered a Mt. Juliet abortion clinic and made verbal threats, forcing a lockdown while some frightened patients and staff hid in offices and stairways.

Another 150 protestors gathered on the sidewalks and parking lot outside. One man escorted off the property by local police promised to return, saying he had “men out here who are willing to do what needs to be done…We are going to be obedient to God’s law, not man’s.”

On Friday, in a 2-1 decision, a federal appeals court rejected Operation Save America’s efforts to bring the clinic’s lingering legal battle against them to an end.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision keeps alive an injunction preventing Operation Save America and people associated with the organization from coming near the clinic. The case was first brought in July 2022 by Mt. Juliet abortion and reproductive healthcare provider Carafem after the protests temporarily shut down the clinic located inside a suburban office building.

Carafem, through its parent company FemHealth USA, filed its legal challenge under the federal FACE Act, which protects patients seeking reproductive healthcare from anyone who uses “force or threat of force or by physical obstruction, intentionally injures, intimidates or interferes with or attempts to injure, intimidate or interfere with” their access to a clinic.

A federal judge in Nashville issued a temporary restraining order last year in July, barring protesters from the clinic and parking lots and preventing them from obstructing or intimidating any patient or healthcare provider seeking access.

In its appeal to end the injunction, the anti-abortion activists argued the case was moot. Since the U.S. Supreme Court decision last year giving states the right to set abortion restrictions, Tennessee’s abortion ban has taken effect, shutting down abortion care at all of the state’s clinics, including Carafem. Protestors no longer have a reason to go back, they argued.

Attorneys for the clinic, however, suggested that patients and staff remain at risk.

The clinic continues to provide other reproductive healthcare, and its patients and staff are “still at a significant risk of intimidation and interference at the hands of” Operation Save American protestors, they argued.

The appeals court decision means the case will continue in a Nashville federal court.

Separately, a federal grand jury last October issued indictments against 11 individuals who attempted to blockade the clinic or unlawfully enter it. The criminal case against those individuals — who live in Virginia, Mississippi, Michigan, South Carolina, Arkansas, Missouri and parts of Tennessee — remains ongoing.