Group files lawsuit over medical exceptions to abortion bans in 3 states

A reproductive rights legal organization filed lawsuits on behalf of several women and physicians on Tuesday, challenging three states where abortion restrictions have been enacted since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year.

Eight women, along with four OB-GYNs and an Idaho medical organization, are named across three lawsuits in Idaho, Tennessee, and Oklahoma. According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is representing the plaintiffs, the eight women were denied access to abortion care despite facing dangerous pregnancy complications.

Two lawsuits, filed in Idaho and Tennessee, are saying state abortion laws endanger the lives and health of pregnant people in addition to hindering physicians from practicing medicine ethically. The suits are asking state courts to place holds on their abortion laws and to clarify “medical emergency” exceptions in the states’ bans.

"The confusing language and non-medical terminology in these bans have left doctors uncertain when they are legally able to provide abortion care," the Center for Reproductive Rights said in a news release. "It’s unclear how sick or near-death a patient must be before a doctor can intervene."

In Oklahoma, a woman is taking legal action against the Oklahoma Children's Hospital. Jaci Statton was advised by her doctor to undergo an abortion after learning she had a nonviable pregnancy.

Statton's complaint argues that the hospital violated the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) when they turned her away from their emergency room despite confirming that the pregnancy was life-threatening without treatment. According to EMTALA, hospitals with emergency departments are required to provide care to patients facing medical emergencies.

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Lawsuits come after similar challenge in Texas

The legal challenges on Tuesday follows a similar lawsuit filed earlier this year in Texas by the Center for Reproductive Rights.

A total of 15 plaintiffs sought clarification on medical exemptions in Texas' abortion law and a judge recently ruled that the state's ban was too restrictive. But Texas officials appealed the ruling, placing the injunction on hold.

“The Supreme Court’s unwarranted reversal of Roe v. Wade has led repeatedly, in multiple states, to women being denied abortion care when they face serious complications in their pregnancies,” Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights said in a statement. “No one should have to be at death’s door to receive essential health care, but that is exactly what happens when doctors are forced to practice medicine under threat of imprisonment."

"Abortion bans across the nation are exposing pregnant people to risks of death, illness, and injury, including loss of fertility," Northup added. "The women standing up today survived, but it is only a matter of time before someone does not.”

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Three legal challenges include women's personal testimonies

In Idaho, where it is a crime to carry out or attempt to perform an abortion, Dr. Emily Corrigan has watched physicians be forced to the leave the state and practice medicine elsewhere.

Corrigan said Idaho's abortion law has caused statewide staffing shortages and that she regularly sees patients who have been denied emergency medical care at hospitals across the state. She added that many patients are also forced to travel "hundreds of miles out of state" to receive the procedure.

“In my 16-year career as an OB/GYN, I have provided care to thousands of pregnant people and routinely treat patients with pregnancy complications, including by providing abortion care," Corrigan said in a statement. "But Idaho’s vaguely worded bans have made it impossible to know whether I can provide the standard care I previously offered without facing severe punishment."

Fellow Idaho plaintiff Jennifer Adkins said she was pregnant with her second child when an ultrasound revealed that her baby had conditions with a high mortality rate and that it was likely her pregnancy was not viable.

Doctors told Adkins that the baby's diagnosis would potentially cause a miscarriage and if she didn't miscarry, she would face life-threatening conditions.

Because of Idaho's abortion laws, Adkins had to travel to Portland, Oregon, to obtain abortion care. The decision was only possible after she received financial assistance from two abortion funds.

“It was crushing when I learned that my baby was not expected to survive and that my life was in danger... But the fact that I couldn’t get the abortion care I urgently needed in Idaho just added to our misery,” Adkins said in a statement. “We had to scramble to come up with the funds to travel for an abortion. No one deserves this heartache."

Nicole Blackmon, one of the plaintiffs suing the state of Tennessee, said she was thrilled when she found out she was pregnant in the summer of 2022 — just months her 14-year-old son was shot and killed in a drive-by shooting.

But Blackmon was battling depression and anxiety from the recent loss of her son while also suffering from chronic health conditions. And a 15-week ultrasound revealed that several of her baby’s major organs were growing outside its body, and it would likely not survive.

Blackmon was unable to receive an abortion due to Tennessee's ban that quickly went into effect after Roe was overturned and she couldn't afford to travel out of state for the procedure. At 31 weeks, she gave birth to a stillborn baby.

“Because of the state’s cruel laws, I was forced to carry a baby for months that was never going to live," Blackmon said in a statement. “I was condemned to endure both physical and emotional torture, knowing that I was going to deliver a stillborn. How can Tennessee politicians stand by while this happens to people like me?"

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Abortion bans: Group files lawsuit over medical exceptions in 3 states