_
_
_
_
_

More women join challenge to Tennessee’s abortion ban law

A handful of lawsuits filed across the U.S. in Republican-dominant states seek clarity on the circumstances that qualify patients to legally receive an abortion

Abortion-rights
Abortion-rights demonstrator holds a sign during a rally on May 14, 2022, in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Feb. 14, 2023.Ben Margot (AP)

More women on Monday joined a Tennessee lawsuit challenging the state’s broad abortion ban that went into effect shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022.

The legal challenge is part of a handful of lawsuits filed across the U.S. in Republican-dominant states seeking clarity on the circumstances that qualify patients to legally receive an abortion.

Here is the latest on what’s going on in Tennessee and where many of the lawsuits stand.

More women join Tennessee’s suit

On Monday, four more women joined the legal battle in Tennessee that first was filed in September— bringing the total of plaintiffs suing over the state’s abortion ban to nine, including two doctors.

Three of the women added Monday were denied abortions while experiencing severe pregnancy complications, forcing them to travel out of state to get the procedure.

Among the new plaintiffs is Rebecca Milner, who learned she was pregnant with her first child in February 2023 after several years of unsuccessful fertility treatments.

According to court documents, Milner was told at a 20-week appointment that the amniotic fluid surrounding her baby was low. A specialist later said that her water had broken likely several weeks before and that nothing could be done to save the baby.

However, her doctor said that Tennessee’s abortion ban prohibited abortion services in her situation.

That’s because the ban only explicitly lists ectopic pregnancies and miscarriages as legally allowed exemptions. While the law also allows doctors to use “reasonable medical judgment” when determining if an abortion is necessary to prevent the death of a pregnant patient or to prevent irreversible, severe impairment of a major bodily function, medical experts have criticized this provision as too vague, one that puts doctors at a high legal risk of violating the statute.

In Milner’s case, court documents state that she eventually traveled to Virginia for an abortion and returned to Tennessee with a high fever. Doctors told her that she had an infection and that the delay in getting an abortion allowed the infection to worsen.

“Contrary to its stated purpose of furthering life, Tennessee’s ban is exposing pregnant patients to grave risks of death, injury, and illness, including loss of fertility — making it less likely that every family that wants to bring a child into the world will be able to do so,” the lawsuit states.

What the lawsuit seeks to accomplish

In Tennessee, the plaintiffs argue that the ban violates pregnant patients’ right to life as guaranteed by the state’s constitution and are asking a three-judge panel to clarify the circumstances that qualify patients to legally receive an abortion. Among the circumstances they want included are fatal diagnoses.

On Monday, the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is representing the plaintiffs, tweaked their complaint to also request an temporary injunction as the court case proceeds.

“After we filed this case in September, our phones lit up with calls from people who were forced to endure similar horror stories,” said Linda Goldstein, an attorney with the center, in a statement. “These women were put through unnecessary agony and suffering, and some almost died. The medical exceptions to state abortion bans clearly do not work — and that is true not just in Tennessee but in every other state that bans abortion.”

A spokesperson for Tennessee’s Attorney General’s office, tasked with defending the state’s abortion ban, did not immediately respond to an email request seeking comment.

What’s the status of similar lawsuits in other states?

The Center for Reproductive Rights has launched legal battles in Idaho, Oklahoma and Texas to force more clarity on when exceptions are allowed under abortion ban laws.

A state judge in Idaho recently denied a request by the state’s top legal chief to throw out a lawsuit seeking to clarify the exemptions tucked inside the state’s broad abortion ban.

Instead, 4th District Judge Jason Scott narrowed the case to focus only on the circumstances where an abortion would be allowed and whether abortion care in emergency situations applies to Idaho’s state constitutional right to enjoy and defend life and the right to secure safety.

Meanwhile, in Texas, a judge initially ruled that Texas’ ban was too restrictive for women with pregnancy complications, but that decision was swiftly put on hold after the state appealed. Now it’s up to the Texas Supreme Court to issue a ruling, which could take months.

Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get more English-language news coverage from EL PAÍS USA Edition

More information

Archived In

Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
_
_