More women join challenge to Tennessee’s abortion ban law

Analysis on Litigation

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. 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.

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