The Center for Reproductive Rights brought a lawsuit against the state of Texas on behalf of five women who were denied abortions despite their conditions qualifying under the state’s abortion ban exceptions.
The case, Zurawski v. State of Texas, is the first lawsuit filed for women denied abortion care since the Supreme Court stripped the federal protection of abortion rights last year.
The lawsuit, in which the plaintiffs are five women and two obstetrician-gynecologists, seeks clarity on when doctors can provide abortions under the exception for "medical emergencies" to protect the life and health of the pregnant person.
According to the lawsuit, one of the women, Amanda Zurawski, experienced preterm pre-labor rupture of membranes (PROM) at 17 weeks of pregnancy. She was forced to wait for abortion care until she was septic because physicians were afraid to perform the procedure without signs of acute infection. As a result, one of her fallopian tubes became permanently closed.
When Lauren M. learned that one of her twins had multiple fetal structural abnormalities and was unlikely to survive until birth, Texas doctors could only offer her to travel outside the state for an abortion for her and the other baby’s life, due in several weeks.
At 19 and a half weeks of pregnancy, Anna was diagnosed with PPROM and learned that her baby would not survive birth. Doctors in the emergency room told her that in such situations, patients are typically recommended abortion because the continuation of pregnancy puts her at high risk of developing a septic infection or hemorrhaging.
Instead of inducing labor, doctors offered her a dilation and evacuation procedure. Another option was to be admitted to the hospital for "expectant management," meaning that she would either go into labor naturally or wait for her health to deteriorate enough for the hospital to intervene. As she didn’t want to risk her health, Anna drove to another state for an abortion.
"Texas officials claim the bans they passed protect 'life,' but there’s nothing pro-life about them. I nearly died as a direct result of the anti-abortion restrictions in Texas," says Amanda Zurawski, the lead plaintiff. "What’s more, they put the lives of my potential future children at risk, as the damage done to my body has already had a negative impact on my reproductive health."
Texas currently has three abortion bans: a state trigger ban, which completely prohibits abortion; S.B. 8, the "vigilante law banning abortion after six weeks of pregnancy; and a pre-Roe criminal ban that multiple courts have said has been impliedly repealed.
While Texas laws allow providing abortions in case of life-threatening medical emergencies, many physicians turn their patients qualifying under these exceptions away in fear of losing their medical license, receiving fines of at least $100,000, or risking up to 99 years in prison.
"Since Texas’s abortion bans took effect, my hands are tied in many situations. I’ve had to send patients to other states for abortion care that I could have easily given them right across the street at the hospital. I know most Texas doctors are scared to provide abortions in any circumstances or even say the word abortion," says Damla Karsan, an obstetrician-gynecologist and a plaintiff in the case.
Abortion is now banned in at least 12 states, with others imposing severe restrictions or battling over its legality in courts. Limited access to abortion puts both women and their babies at risk. For example, a recent study from the Commonwealth Fund found that maternal and infant mortality rates were 62% higher in states where abortion was more restricted.
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