05.22.23 (PRESS RELEASE) – Today, eight additional women came forward to join a lawsuit filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights against the state of Texas (Zurawski v. State of Texas). The case was originally filed in March on behalf of five women denied abortions in Texas despite dangerous pregnancy complications, as well as two doctors who struggle to practice medicine under the state’s abortion bans. Since then, more women who were denied abortion care have come forward, bringing the total to 15 plaintiffs. Also today, the Center asked the court for a temporary injunction, which would block Texas’ abortion bans as they apply to pregnancy complications while the case proceeds.
“After filing this case two months ago, dozens of women reached out to us to share their similar and harrowing stories,” said Molly Duane, Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “What happened to these women is indefensible and is happening to countless pregnant people across the state. The Texas government must answer for their laws that have nearly killed these women and that put more lives at risk every day. It is clearer than ever that abortion is a vital part of maternal health care, and healthcare decisions should be left to doctors and patients, not politicians. The court must act now to protect pregnant Texans.”
The conflicting language in Texas’ abortion bans has resulted in pervasive fear and confusion among doctors as to when they can help patients with severe pregnancy complications. Texas doctors have been turning patients away because they face up to 99 years in prison, at least $100,000 in fines, and the loss of their medical license for violating the abortion bans. This means pregnant people are being forced to either wait until they are near death to receive care or flee the state if they are able.
Plaintiffs are asking the court to give doctors clarity on what circumstances qualify as exceptions and allow doctors to use their own medical judgment without fear of prosecution. The lawsuit argues that the Texas state constitution protects pregnant people’s health and lives, which includes the right to obtain an abortion when facing life or health-threatening conditions as well as physicians’ right to provide that care. To prevent further harm to pregnant Texans, plaintiffs are also asking the court to block the state’s abortion bans as it applies to care during pregnancy complications while the case proceeds.
Quotes from plaintiffs:
“As an OBGYN, I fully understood the physical, mental and emotional health ramifications of continuing a pregnancy with my diagnosis.” Dr. Austin Dennard, one of the plaintiffs joining the lawsuit today. For me, abortion was the right choice, and having to flee my own state in order to receive one felt absolutely surreal. Then months later, caring for my own patient going through a similar experience, I felt completely powerless all over again. It was traumatizing. Texas has stripped me of my own reproductive rights while simultaneously disassembling the most important foundation of a doctor-patient relationship: trust and open, honest communication. I’m joining this lawsuit because I feel it’s my duty—as a doctor and a mother—to hold the government accountable for putting the life of every pregnant Texan in danger. These laws have created a public health crisis that has gravely impacted both my personal and professional life.”
“It is outrageous that I was forced to get sicker and sicker before I could get the medical care I needed,” said Elizabeth Weller, another new plaintiff in the case. “My water broke far too early, which meant my baby was not going to survive, and that my life was in danger. But the doctors at the hospital turned me away—they told me to go home and come back when I was so sick that I developed an infection. This is not healthcare. This is immoral and inhumane. I should have been grieving the loss of my pregnancy, but instead I was fighting for my life. Now I’m terrified to get pregnant again in my home state. I’m joining this lawsuit because no one should have to go through the nightmare that I experienced.”
“I want Texas lawmakers to know what they are putting me and other women through,” said plaintiff Jessica Bernardo, who is joining the case today. “There are so many complications that can arise during pregnancy. That’s why abortion is so necessary—it is essential health care. My life was on the line, and I might not have made it without an abortion. Yet I had to flee my own state and felt like I had to speak to my doctor in code. I was made to feel like I was doing something wrong, but I was just trying to save my own life. The other option was to stay in Texas and possibly die.”
You can read about each of the eight new plaintiffs here.
Texas has multiple, overlapping abortion restrictions including a “trigger” law prohibiting all abortion and a ban on abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy (S.B. 8). Under the trigger ban alone, doctors could face up to 99 years in prison for providing an abortion. These bans have no exceptions for rape or incest. The lack of clarity surrounding the “medical emergency” exception to the bans and the State’s failure to provide any guidance to doctors, have resulted in widespread uncertainty over what medical circumstances qualify as exceptions and fear over the threat of punishment. A recent report shows that this is happening across the country as abortion bans restrict doctors’ ability to provide essential care, putting pregnant people’s health and lives at risk.
The Center for Reproductive Rights is dedicated to helping all people access abortion in their communities, including people who are denied care while facing pregnancy complications. If you have been denied care and want to speak to a lawyer about your options, please reach out to [email protected].
The lawsuit was filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights, Morrison & Foerster LLP, and Kaplan Law Firm on behalf of patients Amanda Zurawski; Lauren Miller; Lauren Hall; Anna Zargarian; Ashley Brandt; Kylie Beaton; Jessica Bernardo; Samantha Casiano; Austin Dennard, D.O.; Taylor Edwards; Kiersten Hogan; Lauren Van Vleet; and Elizabeth Weller as well as healthcare providers Dr. Damla Karsan, M.D. and Dr. Judy Levison, M.D., M.P.H.
MEDIA CONTACT: [email protected]