Tennessee & Idaho Are Using Cruel Attacks to Dismiss Lawsuits Against Their Abortion Bans

A woman denied emergency abortion lacks standing to sue because she's since had her tubes tied, Tennessee said in a nonsense motion to dismiss her suit.

Tennessee & Idaho Are Using Cruel Attacks to Dismiss Lawsuits Against Their Abortion Bans
Nicole Blackmon of Tennessee, left, and Jennifer Adkins of Idaho, are both suing their states to clarify what circumstances qualify under the “medical emergency” exceptions of their states’ abortion bans. Photo:Splash Cinema/Center for Reproductive Rights

Attorneys general for Tennessee and Idaho both filed motions to dismiss abortion rights lawsuits brought by the Center for Reproductive Rights in their states this week. In both cases, their motions use cruel language and personal attacks against the plaintiffs—women who have been directly impacted by the states’ abortion bans and are seeking to clarify what circumstances fall under the narrow exception for medical emergencies that these bans claim to include.

Tennessee’s motion, filed Wednesday, claims that plaintiff Nicole Blackmon—who says she suffered “physical and emotional torture” from being forced to carry a nonviable pregnancy for months—doesn’t have standing to sue because she’s since had her tubes tied. The state suggests this limits the chances that she’ll become pregnant and be personally impacted by the ban again and that it’s insufficient for her to “sue so ‘no one else’ will suffer.” Meanwhile, Idaho’s motion filed earlier this week claims the state ban is an attempt to prioritize “by all legal means, live childbirth over abortion,” regardless of fetal conditions that could be antithetical to life.

Tennessee bans abortion beginning at conception with exceptions only for endangerment to the life of the pregnant person, to preserve their health, or if the fetus isn’t viable. Three women who were denied emergency abortion care and two doctors are suing to demand that the state clarify what is included under the umbrella of these narrow exceptions. Idaho also bans abortion beginning at conception with exceptions only for endangerment of the life of the pregnant person and rape and incest. Four women who were denied emergency abortion care, two doctors, and Idaho Academy of Family Physicians are suing the state, also demanding clarification for when emergency abortions are permitted under these exceptions.

What we’re seeing from Tennessee and Idaho closely reflects the cruelty and callousness of other anti-abortion state attorneys general who have worked to throw out lawsuits challenging their bans—often enough, by leveling personal attacks at the plaintiffs. In July, lawyers for Texas fought another suit by the Center for Reproductive Rights, also to clarify an exception for threats to the pregnant person’s life, by making arguments similar to Tennessee’s. The state claimed that because some of the plaintiffs’ fertility had been jeopardized by pregnancy complications and being denied timely emergency abortion care, these women didn’t have standing to sue because it was less likely they’d become pregnant and need to seek abortion care again. One of the plaintiffs called this framing “infuriating” and “ironic,” adding, “Do they not realize the reason why I might not be able to get pregnant again is because of what happened to me as a result of the laws that they support?”

Blackmon, who became pregnant in July 2022 shortly after Tennessee’s abortion ban took effect, initially saw her pregnancy as a “blessing” until, 15 weeks in, she learned her fetus suffered from omphalocele. This condition impedes the development of the fetus’ abdominal wall, resulting in organs growing outside the body. Blackmon’s doctors told her this was a lethal anomaly and continuing the pregnancy endangered her health. But despite Tennessee’s narrow exception for such emergencies, she was still denied abortion care. Now, in the wake of her tubal ligation procedure, Blackmon’s experience has been invalidated by Tennessee’s motion this week, which she accuses of “trying to pretend” that what she experienced “never happened.” Her statement continues, “No one should ever have to go through what I went through. Tennessee lawmakers put my life in danger with this abortion ban. My fellow plaintiffs and I are asking for the bare minimum—the right to basic health care during the many risky complications that arise during pregnancy.”

The motion also references one of Blackmon’s co-plaintiffs, Allyson Phillips, who learned 18 weeks into her pregnancy that her unborn daughter was incompatible with life. The state points to Phillips’ similar motivations for joining the lawsuit to “prevent any other person” from sharing her experience, calling this insufficient grounds for a lawsuit. The state then invokes how Phillips is “now running for state office to change the abortion laws,” unsubtly suggesting her involvement in the suit is for political gain.

On Tuesday, Idaho filed its own motion to dismiss a similar lawsuit. In addition to claiming that Idaho’s ban is designed to “prefer…live childbirth” even “in cases in which a physician believes that the child will die shortly after birth,” it states that, “The statutes simply do not allow for an abortion in situations in which an unborn child is ‘unlikely’ to survive after birth.” This language is deeply callous in the face of people who have been forced to carry nonviable pregnancies to term and suffer the heartbreak of birthing a newborn that dies hours or days later. “Idaho lawmakers put these women through the unthinkable and now the state wants them thrown out of court,” Gail Deady, senior staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement this week.

In April, Jennifer Adkins, the lead plaintiff in the Idaho suit, learned her fetus had Turner syndrome and other severe anomalies incompatible with life. She was still forced to travel to Oregon for emergency abortion care, and, fearing criminal penalties, her medical team couldn’t even help refer her to a provider. In a statement responding to Idaho’s motion this week, Adkins accused Idaho’s laws of “[putting] my life at risk and [compounding] my heartbreak,” as she grieved giving up a wanted pregnancy. “The humane response would be for Idaho officials to acknowledge the harm these laws are causing and to expand the exceptions in their abortion ban,” she said in a statement. “Instead, the attorney general is literally trying to dismiss me and the other women in this case. It’s degrading and insulting.”

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