Plaintiffs’ Stories: Zurawski v. State of Texas
Stories of eight Texas women—each denied abortion care after facing severe and dangerous pregnancy complications—who have joined this case as additional plaintiffs.
Since the Center filed its original case against Texas in March on behalf of five Texas women denied abortion care and two Texas obstetrician-gynecologists, many Texans have come forward to tell their stories about being denied abortion care in their state. On May 22, 2023, the eight women below joined the case, Zurawski v. State of Texas, as additional plaintiffs, bringing the total number of plaintiffs to 15. They too, after facing dangerous pregnancy complications, were denied abortion care and as a result faced serious threats to their health, fertility, and lives.
Dr. Austin Dennard
Dr. Austin Dennard, who lives in Dallas, Texas, with her husband, is a doctor of osteopathic medicine (D.O.), working in general obstetrics and gynecology and trained to provide miscarriage management. Dr. Dennard and her husband, who is also an OB/GYN, have two children, but they had always wanted a third. In July of 2022, Dr. Dennard was excited to be pregnant, particularly because before this pregnancy, she had had a miscarriage. At 11 weeks into her pregnancy, Dr. Dennard found out that her baby had anencephaly—a condition she knew was not compatible with survival. Sadly, Dr. Dennard had been through this before: in her first pregnancy, her baby was diagnosed at 18 weeks with a rare genetic condition associated with heart disorders and other comorbidities, and she and her husband made the difficult choice to end the pregnancy. At the time, abortion was legal in Texas, and Dr. Dennard was able to obtain care at a clinic in her home community. This time, due to the state’s abortion bans, she was forced to travel out of state.
Dr. Dennard’s personal and professional lives collided when months later, Dr. Dennard’s patient, Lauren M., faced a similar devastating diagnosis. Dr. Dennard watched Lauren M. go through the same experience she had—researching abortion providers out of state on her own, traveling to get care, finding childcare, and trying to grieve while plagued by medical trauma, fear, and confusion. After Dr. Dennard saw that Lauren M. was one of the plaintiffs in this lawsuit, she decided to join the case and tell her story. Dr. Dennard is now pregnant again with her long-awaited third child, due in the fall.
Kylie Beaton, who lives with her husband and their four-and a-half-year-old daughter in Fort Worth, Texas, was thrilled to learn she was pregnant with her second child in late 2022. But at her 20-week scan in January 2023, Kylie and her husband discovered their baby had a condition, alobar holoprosencephaly, in which the brain does not develop normally and the head grows abnormally quickly. After learning the baby would only survive for a few days past birth, if at all, Kylie considered traveling to New Mexico for abortion care. Before the trip, however, an ultrasound revealed that the baby’s head was already measuring at close to 24 weeks—a size past the gestational cutoff for the New Mexico clinic—and Kylie was unable to obtain an abortion. Devastated, Kylie realized that she would have no choice but to continue the pregnancy.
At Kylie’s 28-week ultrasound appointment, the baby’s head was measuring at 39 weeks, and Kylie was told this was the last point at which she would be able to deliver vaginally. She preferred a vaginal delivery and begged the doctors to induce her. Her doctor told her that while she should be induced for a vaginal delivery that day, no doctor could induce her because of Texas’s abortion bans. After rushing to the hospital with abdominal pain at 35 weeks, Kylie was finally sent for an emergency Cesarean, which necessitated a larger incision than normal to accommodate the baby’s head. The baby’s condition deteriorated quickly, and he died four days after he was born.
Kylie will need to wait several months to give her uterus time to heal before trying to get pregnant again. She says the most difficult part of the experience has been explaining to her young daughter what happened and why. Kylie said that having to go through the birth and death of their son made losing him much harder, and she continues to fear for her health, safety, and ability to get pregnant again in the future.
Jessica Bernardo, who lives in Frisco, Texas with her husband, was thrilled to discover she was pregnant in July 2022 after two years of fertility challenges. Upon learning at 14 weeks that their baby likely had Down syndrome, the couple began researching how to support children with disabilities and decided to name her Emma, meaning “whole.” But Jessica soon learned that her daughter had several other severe medical conditions, including fetal anasarca, and would not survive to birth. If she continued the pregnancy, Jessica was also at risk of developing a potentially fatal condition called Mirror syndrome—yet her doctor never mentioned the word abortion to her. After Jessica told her doctor that continuing the pregnancy would be detrimental to her physical and mental health, her doctor contacted the hospital ethics committee for an exclusion, but the request was denied. Using what felt to her like coded language, Jessica told her doctor that they had a residence in Colorado and asked if they should go there; her doctor told her yes.
Unfortunately, Jessica found that the clinics in Colorado were all booked and the soonest appointment was two months away. She was eventually able to get an appointment for an abortion in Seattle, where she learned she was the third patient from Texas that week alone. Due to this experience, which she describes as the worst trauma of her life, Jessica is terrified to get pregnant naturally again in Texas and has decided to start IVF.
Samantha Casiano, who lives in East Texas with her partner, their four children, and their goddaughter, was surprised but excited to learn she was pregnant again in late 2022. When Samantha learned at her 20-week scan that her baby had anencephaly and would not survive, she was devastated. She asked her doctor what her options were—but it soon became clear that she had none. Her doctor did not mention the option of leaving the state to have an abortion, although it would have been financially impossible for Samantha, considering the costs of missing work, childcare, transportation, lodging, and the abortion procedure itself. The doctor told her she would have to go through with the pregnancy and sent her home with a prescription for an antidepressant.
As the months wore on, Samantha found it excruciating to have people constantly congratulating her and asking about her plans for the new baby. She was relieved to receive permission to work from home for the remainder of her pregnancy but worried relentlessly about how she would afford a funeral for her daughter, whom she named Halo. Though Halo was born breech (positioned backwards), which usually necessitates a Cesarean section, Samantha was not given the option to have the procedure; she noted the hypocrisy of treating her daughter like a healthy baby only while she was in utero. Halo died four hours after birth
, and after a simple funeral, Samantha resolved to tell her story publicly in the hope that others would not have to go through the same experience. She wished she had been able to put her daughter to rest earlier, since she was going to have to rest either way.
In November 2022, after two years of IVF treatments, Taylor Edwards and her husband, of Austin, Texas, were ecstatic to learn she was pregnant. But at 17 weeks, the couple learned that their daughter, whom they had named Phoebe, had a fatal condition called encephalocele and would die at or before birth. Continuing the pregnancy posed risks to Taylor as well. After a second opinion confirmed the diagnosis, Taylor decided to travel to New Mexico to have an abortion, despite the daunting logistics and expense. Her doctors in Texas told her that if her condition had occurred a year and a half earlier, they could have offered her the care she needed, but not anymore.
Three hours before her flight was scheduled to leave, the New Mexico clinic canceled Taylor’s appointment due to a shortage of medication needed for the procedure. Taylor searched for other appointments in New Mexico, but none were available. She soon started vomiting daily, struggling both physically and emotionally, and she was terrified that she would be too far along for an abortion by the time she found an appointment. Taylor was eventually able to obtain an abortion at a Colorado clinic, though she returned to Texas feeling she was back at square one with IVF. Taylor and her husband still want a child, but she fears being pregnant again in Texas.
Kiersten Hogan, of the Dallas-Fort Worth area, had long ago been diagnosed with PCOS and had a history of miscarriages, so she was surprised but excited to learn she was pregnant in June 2021. At the time, she lived in Oklahoma with a boyfriend who was physically and emotionally abusive. Upon learning she was pregnant, her boyfriend became violent and insisted she get an abortion. Instead, Kiersten left him and moved to Texas.
Several times during the first few months of her pregnancy, Kiersten rushed to the emergency room after experiencing cramping and bleeding, but doctors repeatedly assured her that everything looked normal. In September 2021, at 19 weeks of pregnancy, her water broke—just weeks after Texas law S.B. 8 had taken effect and days after Kiersten had settled into her new life, with a new job and new home. Hospital staff told Kiersten that if her cervical insufficiency had been diagnosed earlier, she could have had a procedure to prevent this; now, it was too late. She would need to stay in the hospital until she either went into labor or her condition deteriorated enough for the hospital to give her an abortion. If she tried to leave the hospital, staff told her, it could be used as evidence that she was trying to kill her baby, and criminal charges could be brought against her.
Kiersten was terrified and felt trapped inside the hospital walls. Religious counselors repeatedly came to visit her, even though she had declined pastoral care, and she was afraid to even go to the bathroom for fear that she would cause herself to go into labor and be arrested. Four days later, Kiersten delivered her son stillborn. She says being detained against her will for four days made her feel like a criminal during the biggest medical emergency of her life.
Lauren Van Vleet
When Lauren Van Vleet learned she was pregnant in October 2022, she was delighted. She and her husband, who live in Jarrell, Texas, had always wanted children, and they decided to name their baby boy Rowan. But in February 2023, a severe snow and ice storm delayed Lauren’s 20-week scan by two weeks. At the rescheduled scan, the couple learned that Rowan had anencephaly and would not survive. Lauren’s doctor told her that due to Texas’ laws, there was nothing she could do but wait for the baby’s heart to stop beating or carry the pregnancy to term. She would have to go out of state if she wanted an abortion.
Lauren was 23 weeks pregnant when she began searching for appointments and was concerned she’d be unable to obtain an abortion at this stage. She was terrified of legal liability and avoided texting anyone about her plans. Luckily, family members in Maryland were able to provide logistical and financial support, and Lauren received an abortion there at 24 weeks. She has spent the last several months trying to heal; while she still wants children, she is afraid to be pregnant again in Texas.
Elizabeth Weller and her husband, of Kingwood, Texas, were excited to learn she was pregnant in early 2022. Her pregnancy progressed relatively smoothly at first, and she opted not to do any genetic testing: Elizabeth herself was born with a physical disability, brachial plexus Erb’s palsy, and she knew she would want to continue the pregnancy regardless. At 19 weeks, however, Elizabeth’s water broke. When she rushed to the emergency room, hospital staff told her she had lost a significant amount of amniotic fluid and suggested that she pray. Elizabeth became extremely uneasy and worried that the staff was downplaying the severity of her situation and perhaps even lying to her.
A call with her OB/GYN confirmed that Elizabeth’s baby would not be able to survive, and continuing the pregnancy meant risking her fertility and her life. Her doctor asked the hospital’s administration for permission to perform an abortion. Because Elizabeth had already been prescribed antibiotics, hospital staff refused, telling her she was not sick enough and had put herself in a legal gray area by attempting to fend off infection. Her options were to stop taking the antibiotics and stay in the hospital, or go home, monitor herself for signs of worsening infection, and wait for her baby to die inside her. She returned home and considered seeking an abortion out of state, but her doctor warned her that traveling would mean risking death. Elizabeth’s infection soon advanced and she was diagnosed with chorioamnionitus, an infection of the placenta and the amniotic fluid. At that point, a medical board reviewed her case and finally approved an abortion for her. The hospital staff agreed to induce labor. Her daughter did not survive.
Elizabeth said her experience made her feel like she was being punished by the state of Texas for failing to carry a wanted pregnancy to term. While she and her husband still want children, they are traumatized by the experience and afraid of the serious risks associated with being pregnant in Texas.
“I was left with one of two options: each cruel and inhumane.
I could either stay in the hospital to wait for my baby to die, at which point I could get the abortion I needed to protect my health. Or I could go home and wait for either my daughter’s death or for an infection to develop that might cause my own demise.”
“I could not receive the essential, life-saving health care I needed in Texas—an abortion—because Emma’s heart was still beating, and the state’s confusing new abortion law prevented doctors from treating me. We had no other option; our only choice was to leave the state.”
“Denying access to abortion is denying healthcare, and if we allow this to continue, women will die—if they have not already. And then, who are we?”
“My capable and caring Texas doctors could do nothing for me. Under these laws, they couldn’t speak openly or even tell us my options. I remember saying to my doctor, ‘We have a place in Colorado, should I go there?’ and as if in secret code, she said ‘Yes, I think you should go to Colorado.’
The grief of our loss was devastating enough, but the fact that we had to fly out of state for a procedure that would protect my life—an abortion—was worse than cruel.”
“I was made to feel less than human. Texas law caused me to be detained against my will for five days and treated like a criminal, all during the most traumatic and heartbreaking experience of my life. I’m joining this case because women deserve better.”