03.07.23 (PRESS RELEASE) – Yesterday, the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a case in Texas state court on behalf of five Texas women and two Texas doctors. The lawsuit asks the court for clarity on what situations fall under the “medical emergency” exception in Texas’ abortion bans. All five women were denied abortion care despite experiencing medical conditions that threatened their life, health, and future fertility. This is the first time that women have sued a state for being denied abortions since Roe v. Wade was overturned.
The lawsuit argues that the abortion bans in Texas contain conflicting language and non-medical terminology, and that the State has failed to provide any guidance to doctors on when they can provide abortion care, despite repeated requests. This 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 as 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. Meanwhile, 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.
“This is the first lawsuit of its kind. It is the first lawsuit in which individual women have sued a state for the harm that they endured because abortion care has been criminalized in the wake of Roe’s reversal,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “We are seeking a ruling from the court that clearly permits doctors to provide a pregnant patient with abortion care when in the doctor’s good faith judgment, and in consultation with the patient, the doctor determines that the patient has a medical condition that poses a risk to their life or health. No one should be forced to wait until they are at death’s door to receive healthcare.”
The plaintiffs also argue 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. Under the state constitution, Texans are guaranteed the rights of life, liberty, equality, and the ability to practice their profession, all of which protect access to and provision of abortions for dangerous pregnancy complications.
Amanda Zurawski, the lead plaintiff in the case, was excited to become pregnant, but her water broke prematurely at about 18 weeks, meaning the fetus would not survive and her life would be severely at risk until she terminated her pregnancy. She was turned away multiple times from a Texas hospital who refused to give her an abortion until she became much sicker. Without abortion care, Amanda quickly developed sepsis, a life-threatening infection. Only then, close to death, was Amanda given an abortion. She spent three days in the ICU afterwards fighting for her life. Amanda’s fertility has since been damaged as a result of the sepsis she developed while waiting for an abortion, making it harder for her to become pregnant again in the future.
“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. 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,” said Amanda Zurawski. “I am joining this lawsuit because no one should have to go through what I went through. Being pregnant is scary and complicated enough, and we do not need our elected officials making it even more difficult and unsafe. What I went through made me feel like Texas legislators do not care about the lives or wellbeing of Texans. The trauma I endured has forever changed me, and I cannot sit by while the same thing happens to other pregnant people in this state. I want the court to acknowledge that what happened to me was wrong, and that doctors should be able to practice medicine and provide life-saving abortions under their own discretion and training.”
“As an OB/GYN, I have been providing maternal healthcare to Texans for many years,” said Dr. Damla Karsan, OB/GYN and a plaintiff in the case. “Abortion has always been a critical component of that care. Doctors routinely provide abortions to patients when a dangerous complication arises during pregnancy or when the fetus has a fatal condition. But since Texas’ 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. We need clarity on what kinds of patients we can help without losing our license or ending up in jail.”
You can read about the other plaintiffs in this case 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, have resulted in widespread uncertainty over what medical circumstances qualify as exceptions and fear over the threat of punishment.
Texas already has a maternal mortality rate that is above the U.S. average, which is among the highest in the world, disproportionately impacting Black women. Since S.B. 8 went into effect, maternal morbidity has further increased in hospitals in the state. Still, the state of Texas sued the federal government last year over guidance requiring hospitals to provide abortion care to patients facing medical emergencies.
Many Texans are unable to travel out of state to find abortion care. Texans face the longest travel times in the country as they have to drive an average of over 7 hours one-way to reach an abortion provider outside of the state.
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, and Ashley Brandt as well as healthcare providers Dr. Damla Karsan, M.D. and Dr. Judy Levison, M.D., M.P.H.
Footage of press conference for media use here (Credit: Center for Reproductive Rights/Splash Cinema)
Photos of press conference for media use here (Credit: Rick Kern/Getty Images for the Center for Reproductive Rights)
MEDIA CONTACT: [email protected]