A Texas court on Wednesday will hear arguments in the first lawsuit brought on behalf of women denied abortions since the US Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to the procedure just over a year ago.
The complaint, filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights, takes aim at the narrow medical exception in the state’s bans on terminating pregnancies, arguing the way it is defined is confusing, has stoked fear among doctors and led to an “ongoing public health crisis.”
The case was initially filed in March on behalf of five women who were denied abortions — resulting in risks to their health, fertility and lives — as well as two obstetrician-gynecologists.
Eight more women joined the case in May, bringing the total number of plaintiffs to 15.
Rather than seeking to overturn the state’s ban, they want the court to offer greater clarity on when women facing pregnancy complications threatening their health can get abortions.
Amanda Zurawski, whom the case is named after, told AFP in a recent interview she had “nearly died” waiting for an abortion.
Zurawski had wanted her pregnancy, but her water broke very prematurely, causing it to be non-viable. However, she was forced to wait until she developed sepsis before receiving the procedure, causing one of her fallopian tubes to permanently close.
“They say that they’re doing this because it’s pro-life, but I don’t understand what’s pro-life about this,” she said.
Another plaintiff, Lauren Hall, discovered when she was 18 weeks pregnant that her fetus lacked a skull, meaning it had no chance of being viable, and continuing the pregnancy posed severe risks to her. But her obstetrician refused to perform an abortion and she had to travel out of state.
- 99 years in prison –
Texas physicians found guilty of providing abortions face up to 99 years in prison, fines of up to $100,000 and the revocation of their medical license.
A state “trigger” ban went into effect when Roe v Wade was overturned in June 2022, prohibiting abortions even in cases of rape or incest. Texas also has a law that allows private citizens to sue anyone who performs or aids an abortion.
These legal risks are causing a chilling effect among doctors, preventing them from providing necessary, life-saving abortions, contend the plaintiffs.
As a result, the lawsuit asks the court to create a binding interpretation of the “medical emergency” exception, and argues physicians should be allowed to exercise “good faith” judgements on qualifying conditions, rather than leaving this to state lawmakers.
The Texas attorney general’s office, on the other hand, says the measures sought by the complaint would effectively nullify its bans.
The medical exception proposed by the plaintiffs “would, by design, swallow the rule,” they argued, in their written response. “It would, for example, permit abortions for pregnant females with medical conditions ranging from a headache to feelings of depression.”
In the two-day hearing starting Wednesday, a court in Austin will listen to arguments from both sides.
The plaintiffs are seeking a temporary injunction to block the abortion bans in the event of pregnancy complications while their original case is heard. Texas wants the case tossed out, without hearing from witnesses.
©️ Agence France-Presse