Nov 21, 2022 - News

Abortion fight brewing on Virginia-Tennessee border

Illustration of a giant pencil drawing a line in front of a lone woman looking down at the line.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A Tennessee abortion providers' move across state lines has sparked a push in Southwest Virginia to block more clinics from moving in.

State of play: In Tennessee, abortion is now banned. In Virginia, the procedure remains available.

  • And in Bristol, the border between the two jurisdictions and their vastly different laws runs right down the middle of downtown.

What's happening: Leaders in Bristol, Virginia, passed a resolution last month taking the first step toward barring any facility that "intentionally causes the death or termination of a pre-born human life at any stage of development."

  • The vote came in response to the opening of Bristol Women’s Health Center earlier this summer — a clinic that had previously operated on the Tennessee side of the border for 30 years, per the Tennessee Lookout.

Why it matters: If Bristol moves forward, a legal fight with statewide implications would almost certainly ensue, setting up the first test of local powers to restrict abortion in Virginia.

What they're saying: Proponents of the ban, including the Richmond-based Family Foundation, say the zoning change would prevent the city from becoming what the organization described as a destination for abortion tourism, per VPM.

  • "The concept is that in the future, no additional abortion providers could move in because they would be violating the zoning ordinances," Family Foundation president Victoria Cobb told the radio station.

The other side: Opponents point to a number of potential legal challenges Bristol's ban could face, per Washingtonian, including the possibility that banning health clinics that perform or provide abortions exceeds zoning authorities granted by the state.

  • "I think there are strong legal arguments to be made about why [local anti-abortion rights] ordinances should be struck down, but it's hard to say what courts will do," Autumn Katz, an attorney with the Center for Reproductive Rights, told the magazine.

What's next: Leaders in Bristol have not yet said when they plan to make a final decision on the issue, but the council and planning commission had closed sessions to discuss unidentified legal matters scheduled last week and Monday.

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