By Angie Mayes
Special to Mt. Juliet News
Carafem, a women’s health care clinic in Mt. Juliet, is weighing its options after the city approved a zoning change to move surgical abortion clinics from commercial activities zoning to industrial zones in March and April.
Carafem moved to Mt. Juliet to be close to Nashville and serve Middle Tennessee patients who needed health care or wanted an abortion. At the time, carafem planned to provide surgical and medicated abortions. After the city’s vote, it only provided the abortion pill, which could be given to patients up to 10 weeks pregnant.
“We are obviously disappointed that the city has decided to exercise its zoning authority for the political purpose of targeting abortion providers and specifically carafem, said Melissa Grant, chief operating officer with carafem. “We are considering a variety of options in moving forward and remain committed to our serving our mission in Tennessee.”
In March, Grant said, “carafem opened a reproductive health care and family planning center in [Mt. Juliet] to provide safe, convenient and affordable health care options with a licensed, quality health provider to serve women in Tennessee. The health center offers early abortion care up to 10 weeks with the medical abortion pill, STI testing, a wide selection of birth control options – such as IUDs, birth control implants, Depo Provera shots, birth control pills and emergency contraception.”
Among other things, the ordinance, which passed on first reading in March, said, “[surgical abortion clinics] shall be located within 1,000 feet [measured property line to property line] of any church, public or private school ground, college campus, public park or recreation facility, public library, child care facilities or a lot zoned residentially or devoted primarily to residential use.”
Also allowed in the industrial zone are scrap operations; warehousing goods, transport and storage; wholesale sales; waste disposal services, manufacturing and automotive parking.
The clinic moved to Mt. Juliet and opened without securing the appropriate permits to become an actual business, according to Mt. Juliet Mayor Ed Hagerty.
After the March meeting, Hagerty said, “What we did tonight is we amended the zoning ordinance. That’s something that municipal governments do from time to time. We amended the zoning ordinance to what you heard me read into the record with all of the changes being proposed to be changed in our zoning ordinance and we did that by unanimous vote.”
Hagerty said the business that prompted the zoning change, carafem, opened without the city’s knowledge.
“They’ve made no application to the city of any sort, so I don’t know [about the clinic],” he said at the time. “I have read that stuff in different media publications, but I have no first-hand knowledge because they have made not application to the city, so I don’t even know what business you’re referring to, nor what zone class they apply that they would like to apply to be in. They have not applied for any inspection or any application of any sort.”
Hagerty said not applying for permits was “not normal. They would do that in advance. For example, just so you know what zoning means, if you live in a subdivision and one of your neighbors wants to open up a gas station, they can’t do that. That would infringe on your rights as a property owner. We have zoning in our city and every city, so that uses are proper. All we did tonight is what we do time to time, is change and modify the zoning ordinance.”
Before the March vote, District 4 Commissioner Brian Abston said, “I was disgusted to hear they plan to open in my district and my town. I realize they have rights, but my constituents and I don’t want it here. I am pro-life so I will take any action possible within the law to make sure it’s not here.”
Carafem chief operating officer Melissa Grant said the Nashville area, specifically Mt. Juliet, was selected as the location for the nonprofit’s fourth abortion clinic after an increase in the number of women who traveled to its Atlanta clinic for services. Grant said about 5 percent of the women who seek abortions at the Atlanta clinic come from the Nashville area.
When asked about local opposition to the clinic, Grant said carafem is concerned with support of women’s rights over their own health.
“Carafem health supports a woman’s right to make her own decisions about her personal health care. Studies of abortion services worldwide found that abortion-related deaths are rare in countries where the procedure is legal, accessible and performed early in pregnancy by skilled providers. Carafem encourages women to make health decisions together with their family and their physician that are based on medically accurate information. Carafem staff is available 24-7 to answer questions and provide information about the safety and availability of abortion care with carafem. Carafem provides safe, quality medical care that follows all applicable state and local laws,” Grant said.
As abortion is a politically charged topic that has a history of violence against clinics and doctors, Mt. Juliet police stepped up security in the area in March. It was an effort Capt. Tyler Chandler said would ensure safety for everyone.
“Once we were made aware of the heightened activity surrounding the clinic’s location in our city, which we learned from a news article, we educated our staff, placed a surveillance camera tower nearby and instructed officers to provide extra patrol. Our department has a duty to remain neutral and ensure everyone is safe,” Chandler said at the time.
Ministers and others have protested outside of the building that houses the clinic. They have used bullhorns to protest, but city officials asked them to turn them down so they wouldn’t disturb hotel guests and business employees nearby, according to Mt. Juliet City Manager Kenny Martin.
In March, Hagerty said he does not know if the clinic will sue the city regarding the rezoning ordinance.
“I have no idea,” Hagerty said. “That’s an issue they’ll have to take up.”