After being denied potentially life-saving obstetric care for their severe and dangerous pregnancy complications, eight additional Texas women have joined a Center for Reproductive Rights lawsuit against the state.
The Center originally filed the lawsuit in March on behalf of five women denied abortion care and two doctors who were unable to provide the care their patients needed. Since then, more women who were denied abortion care have come forward to tell their stories, bringing the total number of plaintiffs to 15.
“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. “What happened to these women is indefensible and is happening to countless pregnant people across the state.”
Filed today, the Center’s amended complaint in the case, Zurawski v. State of Texas, adds eight new plaintiffs and requests the court to grant a temporary injunction to Texas’s abortion bans as they apply to pregnancy complications while the case proceeds. The lawsuit also seeks to clarify the scope of the state’s “medical emergency” exception under its extreme abortion laws.
The eight women joining the case experienced pregnancy complications including devastating fetal diagnoses that were not conducive to life, premature rupture of their membranes risking severe infections, and other dangerous conditions.
“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,” said Elizabeth Weller, one of the new plaintiffs in the case. “This is not health care. 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 in my home state. I’m joining this lawsuit because no one should have to go through the nightmare that I experienced.”
Texas’s Abortion Bans Deter Doctors from Providing Patient Care
Texas has multiple overlapping abortion restrictions including a state trigger ban, which completely prohibits abortion; S.B. 8, the “vigilante” law banning abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy; and a pre-Roe criminal ban that multiple courts deem repealed by implication. Physicians found to have violated these laws face fines of at least $100,000, up to 99 years in prison, and revocation of their state medical licenses.
Such legal risks, combined with the bans’ unclear language, are deterring Texas physicians from providing their patients with abortion care—a necessary, life-saving procedure crucial for treating many dangerous pregnancy conditions.
“The Texas government must answer for their laws that have nearly killed these women and that put more lives at risk every day,” said Duane. “It is clearer than ever that abortion is a vital part of maternal health care, and health care decisions should be left to doctors and patients, not politicians. The court must act now to protect pregnant Texans.”
“I want Texas lawmakers to know what they are putting me and other women through. 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. . .”
–Jessica Bernardo, plaintiff in the case
Plaintiffs’ Stories Underscore Danger of Extreme Abortion Bans
The new plaintiffs represent a cross section of Texans in need of abortion care in their state: women of color, women with disabilities, survivors of intimate partner violence, and women who struggle to make ends meet. “These pregnant people are not hypothetical. They are not unknown. They are real people with families, many with children already, and some of them are plaintiffs in this action,” the complaint states.
These women’s experiences exemplify the threats that Texas’ bans pose to people’s lives, health, and fertility, further clarifying that Texans with obstetrical emergencies are not receiving medically necessary care:
- After Kiersten’s water broke prematurely, hospital staff told her to wait for her condition to worsen before they could provide abortion care. Further, if she left the hospital to seek care elsewhere, she could be arrested for trying to kill her baby.
- Kylie had no choice but to carry a nonviable pregnancy to term and have emergency cesarian surgery since her baby’s condition, alobar holoprosencephaly, caused his head to be abnormally large. Her son only lived for four days.
- Elizabeth’s water broke prematurely, and although her doctor confirmed her baby would not survive and continuing the pregnancy meant risking her fertility and her life, the hospital refused to perform an abortion until she developed a serious infection.
- After learning that her baby had anencephaly and would not survive, Samantha had no choice but to carry the nonviable pregnancy to term. Her daughter died a few hours after birth.
- Jessica’s baby received a diagnosis of fetal anasarca. Despite the increased risks to her health, the hospital told her that she was ineligible for abortion care. She was forced to travel to Seattle to obtain an abortion.
- Dr. Austin Dennard, whose baby was diagnosed with anencephaly, chose to share her story about traveling out of state to obtain a medically indicated abortion after being inspired by her patient, Lauren M., an original plaintiff in this lawsuit.
- Taylor received a fetal diagnosis of encephalocele and, advised that continuing the pregnancy posed increasing risks to her health, she had no choice but to travel to another state for an abortion.
- Lauren V. received a fetal diagnosis of anencephaly, forcing her to obtain an abortion in Maryland, even though traveling increased her health risks.
“I want Texas lawmakers to know what they are putting me and other women through,” said Jessica Bernardo, one of the new plaintiffs in the case. “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.”
Zurawski v. State of Texas is the first lawsuit brought on behalf of women denied abortions since the U.S. Supreme Court eliminated the constitutional right to abortion and cleared the way for states to ban it entirely. The lawsuit was filed by the Center, 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 health care providers Dr. Damla Karsan, M.D. and Dr. Judy Levison, M.D., M.P.H.
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].