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Organizations Serving Young People in Tennessee Challenge State Measure Criminalizing Abortion Support for Young People

June 27, 2024—(PRESS RELEASE) Earlier today, Midwest Access Coalition (MAC) and SisterReach asked a federal district court to block a Tennessee measure that seeks to criminalize helping young people in the state access legal abortion care across state lines. Plaintiffs provide critical information and referrals, funding, and practical support to such young people to express respect for and solidarity with them.

The measure – which will take effect on  July 1 without emergency relief – threatens to punish someone who helps a young person in Tennessee obtain a legal, out-of-state abortion (“helper”) unless the helper secures “written, notarized consent” from the young person’s parent or legal guardian for each form of support they need.  The measure is so unclear that helpers cannot determine if their support violates the measure, thereby giving prosecutors unbridled indiscretion to target anyone whom they disfavor. The measure also seeks to stifle the helpers’ protected speech and expression. 

“It is heartbreaking to see Tennessee, a state that has already done so much to disenfranchise pregnant people and their families, enact restrictions that will only serve to compound the challenges young Tennesseans face in accessing abortion care,” said Madison Lyleroehr, Deputy Director at Midwest Access Coalition.  This law is not meant to protect, but to confuse, stigmatize, alienate, and intimidate pregnant minors and those who support their choices. MAC stands firm in our support of and trust in young people and the choices they make in the best interest of themselves and their families. We hope the court takes immediate action so that no one has to fear or face punishment for supporting Tennesseans- no matter their age- in exercising their bodily autonomy.”  

This measure punishes young people in Tennessee and does not exempt young people whose pregnancy was caused by rape, incest, or by their legal guardian,” said Cherisse A. Scott, CEO & Founder of SisterReach. “We need lawmakers who regard the intersectional obstacles young people face and prioritize the overall wellbeing of Tennessee youth, especially youth in Shelby County. Enforcing a law that controls their fertility but refuses to make comprehensive reproductive and sexual health education accessible to them is disingenuous and reveals their real objective of population control, cloaked in anti-abortion rhetoric. We expect lawmakers to understand the diverse impact of our youth’s lived experiences, offering them support as they navigate parenting choices that could change the trajectory of their lives.

The plaintiffs in today’s legal challenge are represented by the Lawyering Project and Donati Law, PLLC.  The Lawyering Project also represents an abortion fund that seeks to prevent the Alabama Attorney General from making good on his threats to criminalize people that help pregnant Alabamians leave the state to access legal abortion and is part of the legal challenge to an Idaho restriction that criminalizes any adult that assists a young person in accessing an abortion with the intent to conceal the abortion from the young person’s parents.