Case: Blackmon v. State of Tennessee

23-1196-I | Tennessee state trial court

Filed Date: Sept. 11, 2023

Case Ongoing

Clearinghouse coding complete

Case Summary

On September 11, 2023, the Center for Reproductive Rights filed this lawsuit in the Chancery Court for the Twentieth Judicial District in Tennessee (a state trial court) — against the State of Tennessee and the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners — on behalf of a group of private plaintiffs: women in Tennessee who were denied medically necessary abortion care and physicians who have been prevented from offering their patients life-saving treatment. The plaintiffs challenged the application of …

On September 11, 2023, the Center for Reproductive Rights filed this lawsuit in the Chancery Court for the Twentieth Judicial District in Tennessee (a state trial court) — against the State of Tennessee and the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners — on behalf of a group of private plaintiffs: women in Tennessee who were denied medically necessary abortion care and physicians who have been prevented from offering their patients life-saving treatment. The plaintiffs challenged the application of Tennessee’s criminal, total abortion ban to pregnant patients with emergent medical conditions, alleging that the abortion ban's Medical Condition Exception was too narrow and unclear for physicians to provide life-saving care without fear of criminal liability. Tennessee's criminal abortion ban first went into effect on August 25, 2022, just weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Center. In April 2023, the Tennessee legislature amended the ban to provide for the Medical Condition Exception. The amendment provided an exception to the abortion ban when a physician determined “using reasonable medical judgment" that an abortion was necessary “to prevent the death of the pregnant woman or to prevent serious risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman." The plaintiffs sought declaratory and injunctive relief on grounds that the abortion ban, as applied to pregnant persons with emergent medical conditions, violated the Tennessee state constitution. The complaint alleged that the Exception unconstitutionally violated the plaintiffs’ right to life and equal protection under the Tennessee constitution because it deprived pregnant Tennesseans of access to life-saving health care. The complaint further alleged the Exception was unconstitutionally vague so as to deprive physicians their rights to liberty and property by not providing adequate notice of what is prohibited conduct. The plaintiffs, thus, asked the state trial court to enjoin the enforcement of the abortion ban and to issue a declaration clarifying the Medical Condition Exception under Tennessee’s Declaratory Judgment Act.

On November 1, 2023, the State of Tennessee filed a motion to dismiss the case, contending that the State is protected through sovereign immunity, that the plaintiffs lacked standing, and that the plaintiffs pled no cause of action so as to vest the trial court with jurisdiction. 

On January 8, 2024, the plaintiffs filed an amended complaint, wherein four additional women joined the suit as plaintiffs. Due to the chilling effect of the abortion ban on performing medically necessary abortions, the plaintiffs also filed a motion for a temporary injunction, requesting the trial court to enjoin enforcement of the ban as it applies to dangerous pregnancy complications.

The case remains ongoing. 

Summary Authors

Kavitha Babu (3/29/2024)

Documents in the Clearinghouse

Document

23-1196-I

Docket

Sept. 11, 2023

Sept. 11, 2023

Docket

23-1196-I

Plaintiffs' Complaint for Declaratory Judgment and Permanent Injunction

Sept. 11, 2023

Sept. 11, 2023

Complaint

23-1196-I

Plaintiffs’ First Amended Complaint for Declaratory Judgment and Permanent Injunction

Jan. 8, 2024

Jan. 8, 2024

Complaint

Docket

Docket sheet not available via the Clearinghouse.

Case Details

State / Territory: Tennessee

Case Type(s):

Reproductive Issues

Key Dates

Filing Date: Sept. 11, 2023

Case Ongoing: Yes

Plaintiffs

Plaintiff Description:

A group of seven private individuals, including five women in Tennessee who were denied medically necessary abortion care and two physicians who have been prevented from offering their patients life-saving treatment due to the chilling effects of the abortion ban's vague language.

Plaintiff Type(s):

Private Plaintiff

Attorney Organizations:

Center for Reproductive Rights

Public Interest Lawyer: Yes

Filed Pro Se: Yes

Class Action Sought: No

Class Action Outcome: Not sought

Defendants

State of Tennessee, State

Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners, State

Defendant Type(s):

Jurisdiction-wide

Hospital/Health Department

Case Details

Causes of Action:

State law

Special Case Type(s):

Three-Judge Court

Available Documents:

Trial Court Docket

Complaint (any)

Outcome

Prevailing Party: None Yet / None

Nature of Relief:

None yet

Source of Relief:

None yet

Issues

Reproductive rights:

Abortion

Complete abortion ban