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Tennessee women fight to block state’s abortion ban after being denied treatment for dangerous pregnancies

A Tennessee court is hearing arguments today calling for a temporary block of the state’s abortion ban – months after a request filed by seven women who were denied abortions and two doctors who have been unable to perform the procedure.

A three-judge panel began hearing oral arguments on the morning of 4 April in Blackmon v. State of Tennessee after lawyers from the Center for Reproductive Rights, representing the plaintiffs, filed a motion on 8 January requesting a temporary injunction on the state’s near-total abortion ban.

Attorneys have asked for “clarity” on the medical exceptions to the ban, referring to seven women who were “denied necessary and potentially life-saving medical care” because doctors are hamstrung by the law’s “vague” language.

The ban, the group wrote, “is preventing pregnant women across Tennessee from receiving medically necessary abortion care, resulting in an ongoing public health crisis”. The ban also violates the state’s constitution, the lawyers claimed.

The attorneys slammed the law’s “ambiguity” when it comes to medical exceptions to the abortion ban – not only for patients but for doctors too. The ban’s “harsh penalties have chilled physicians from performing most medically necessary abortions,” they wrote.

“A declaratory judgment is necessary to give physicians the clarity they need to provide medically necessary abortion care to their patients without fear of imprisonment and loss of their medical licenses,” the filing states.

The ban has been in effect since August 2022 — just two months after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade.

Meanwhile, the state is trying to dismiss the case.

Thursday’s hearing is just one step in a lengthy process to stop the state’s abortion ban.

Nicole Blackmon is among plaintiffs suing Tennessee over its abortion ban’s exceptions for medical emergencies after she was denied life-saving abortion care in the state (Splahs Cinema)
Nicole Blackmon is among plaintiffs suing Tennessee over its abortion ban’s exceptions for medical emergencies after she was denied life-saving abortion care in the state (Splahs Cinema)

The nine plaintiffs — Nicole Blackmon, Allie Phillips, Katy Dulong, Monica Kelly, Kathryn Archer, Rebecca Milner, and Rachel Fulton and doctors Heather Maune and Laura Andreson — are seeking a permanent block on the state’s abortion ban.

They are suing the state of Tennessee and a host of prominent officials and agencies, including Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti and the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners.

Ms Blackmon, the lead plaintiff in the case, realised she was pregnant in July 2022, the court filing states. She suffered from “serious ongoing health issues,” but had to stop taking her medication to avoid harming the foetus.

Despite taking this precaution, Ms Blackmon learned just 15 weeks into her pregnancy that it had a lethal diagnosis.

Ms Blackmon didn’t have the resources to leave her home state to get an abortion, so she was “forced to continue her pregnancy despite the grave risks” it posed to her health — including showing warning signs of preeclampsia, a dangerous condition that can lead to a stroke.

Seven months into her pregnancy, Ms Blackmon gave birth to a stillborn baby.

Another plaintiff, Ms Phillips, decided to run for office — as a Democrat in House District 75 — after being denied an abortion in February.

“This is something new for me,” she told the Nashville Post at the time. “Given my story and the outreach I’ve had with it, it seemed like a no-brainer to take this and open new doors. I can scream online all day, but in order to make a change I need to actually be in a position to make that change.”

Tennessee is one of more than 20 states to have enacted abortion bans.