A federal judge on Friday temporarily blocked a Tennessee law from taking effect next week that would require abortion clinics to be licensed as ambulatory surgical centers, a step which abortion rights supporters had said would force two facilities to close.
The law signed in May by Republican Governor Bill Haslam applies to all clinics that perform 50 abortions or more annually and was due to take effect on July 1.
A company that operates abortion clinics in Nashville and Bristol filed a lawsuit on Thursday challenging the requirements and asked U.S. District Court Judge Kevin Sharp to block the law from taking effect, saying it was impossible to meet the deadline for licensing.
The state health department did not make applications available until June 16, will not issue a license to a clinic until it has a full set of architectural plans to review, and requires a clinic to pass a site inspection scheduled with up to 45 days of advanced notice, Sharp's order said.
"It is simply not possible to complete this process in the time available before the law takes effect," the order said.
Another hearing in the case is set for July 9.
"Tennessee women have been granted a temporary reprieve from the tidal wave of clinic shutdown laws sweeping the South," said Stephanie Toti, an attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights, which represents the plaintiffs in the case.
The lawsuit also challenges a new Tennessee law requiring women to wait 48 hours after counseling before undergoing an abortion and a requirement that doctors who perform abortions have hospital admitting privileges.
Tennessee would join 22 states that require abortion providers to meet ambulatory surgical center standards if the law stands, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports access to abortion.
(Reporting by Mary Wisniewski in Chicago and David Bailey in Minneapolis; Editing by Lisa Lambert)