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Tennessee abortion clinics seek order to keep providing care


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee abortion providers have filed an emergency motion in federal court, asking for an order allowing them to continue serving women despite Gov. Bill Lee's executive order aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus.

Their attorneys argue in a motion filed late Monday night that abortions should be exempt from the Republican governor's order blocking nonemergency health care procedures.

Delaying abortions will “impose extreme burdens” on women by forcing them to travel long distances out of state during the pandemic, or wait weeks for an abortion, exposing them to increased medical risks, they argued.

It also runs counter to guidance from the American Medical Association, which issued a statement “denouncing efforts to ‘ban or dramatically limit women’s reproductive health care’ at this time,” court filings state.

Applying the executive order to abortions also goes against the stated purpose of the temporary ban: to preserve the supply of personal protective equipment and limit unnecessary patient-provider interactions.

“Prenatal care and delivery involve more patient-provider interactions, including prenatal visits, additional screening tests, and, ultimately, hospital admission and labor and delivery, including a potential caesarean section, which is major abdominal surgery,” the filings state.

Attorneys for the providers state that they attempted to resolve the issue without litigation but were unable to do so.

Lee issued a first executive order on nonessential medical services on March 23. Although the order specifically excluded “pregnancy-related visits and procedures” from the ban, a spokesman for Lee said at the time said the governor’s “hope and expectation” was that abortions would not take place during the coronavirus crisis.

He issued a second order on April 8, before the expiration of the first order, that went much further, explicitly banning until April 30 any procedures that were not necessary “to provide life-sustaining treatment, to prevent death or risk of substantial impairment of a major bodily function, or to prevent rapid deterioration or serious adverse consequences to a patient’s physical condition.”

The ban applies to surgical abortions but not medication abortions, which are available to women who are less than 11 weeks pregnant, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights, one of the groups filing the lawsuit.

The new motion was filed as part of an ongoing lawsuit by abortion providers challenging a Tennessee law that requires women to attend an in-person counselling session at least 48 hours before an abortion. Both sides are awaiting a ruling in the lawsuit. The providers' lawyers, as part of their emergency motion, also want the judge to issue a preliminary injunction preventing the state from enforcing the in-person counselling requirement.

A spokeswoman for the Tennessee Attorney General's office said they would be filing a response on Tuesday.

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