TEXAS (AFP): A Texas court heard arguments on Wednesday in a lawsuit that says the state’s strict abortion ban is preventing women who develop serious medical conditions during pregnancy from receiving the care they need.
Amanda Zurawski, one of the plaintiffs in the case, gave harrowing testimony on the witness stand about being denied an abortion after developing a condition that meant “miscarriage was inevitable.”
But Zurawski said her doctor told her that she “couldn’t intervene, because the baby’s heart was still beating and inducing labor would have been considered an illegal abortion.”
Zurawski, whose water had broken prematurely, went into life-threatening septic shock and the fetus was stillborn.
“What happened to me is happening to people all across the country, not just in Texas,” Zurawski told the court. “So many people are being hurt by similar restrictive bans and I’m hoping to spread awareness.”
The Center for Reproductive Rights, which filed the case, said the suit is the first brought on behalf of women denied abortions since the US Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to the procedure just over a year ago.
“Texas’ abortion bans are chilling the provision of medically necessary abortion care” and causing “unimaginable tragedy,” Molly Duane, an attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in her opening argument at the two-day hearing in Austin.
“Texas is in a health care crisis,” Duane said. “The only issue in this case, however, is who should be getting abortions under the medical exception to the state’s abortion ban.”
“No one knows.”
The complaint takes aim at the narrow medical exception in the state’s bans on terminating pregnancies, arguing the way it is defined is confusing and has stoked fear among doctors.
The case was filed in March on behalf of five women who were denied abortions — resulting in risks to their health, fertility and lives — as well as two obstetrician-gynecologists.
Eight more women joined the case — Zurawski v. State of Texas — in May, bringing the total number of plaintiffs to 15.
Rather than seeking to overturn the state’s ban, they want the court to offer greater clarity on when women facing pregnancy complications threatening their health can get abortions.
– 99 years in prison –
Texas physicians found guilty of providing abortions face up to 99 years in prison, fines of up to $100,000 and the revocation of their medical license.
A state “trigger” ban went into effect when Roe v. Wade was overturned in June 2022, prohibiting abortions even in cases of rape or incest. Texas also has a law that allows private citizens to sue anyone who performs or aids an abortion.
These legal risks are causing a chilling effect among doctors, preventing them from providing necessary, life-saving abortions, contend the plaintiffs.
As a result, the lawsuit asks the court to create a binding interpretation of the “medical emergency” exception in the law, and argues physicians should be allowed to exercise “good faith” judgements on the qualifying conditions for an abortion, rather than leaving this to state lawmakers.
The Texas attorney general’s office, on the other hand, says the measures sought by the complaint would effectively nullify its bans.
The medical exception proposed by the plaintiffs “would, by design, swallow the rule,” its lawyers argued in their written response. “It would, for example, permit abortions for pregnant females with medical conditions ranging from a headache to feelings of depression.”
The plaintiffs are seeking a temporary injunction to block the abortion bans in the event of pregnancy complications while the full case is heard. The Texas government wants the case tossed out.