Five Women Denied Abortions in Life-Threatening Situations Sue Texas

Two obstetrician-gynecologists and five women who were denied abortions in Texas while facing dangerous pregnancy-related complications sued the state on Monday to clarify its abortion laws.

Texas’ trigger ban prohibiting almost all abortions, which went into effect when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, is one of three abortion bans cited in the plaintiffs’ press release. The press release also cites a law permitting private suits against anyone aiding an abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy and a pre-Roe criminal law that some courts have already declared impliedly repealed.

The plaintiffs assert that even though Texas’ abortion law provides an exception in cases of medical emergency, doctors are declining to perform abortions in these instances. The complaint suggests that medical professionals refuse to perform legal abortions for people in life-threatening emergency situations because the law is unclear and the penalties are great: they face losing their license, fines of at least $100,000, and prison time of up to 99 years for violations.

Amanda Zurawski, one of the plaintiffs, says that she experienced a premature rupture of membranes and her fetus could not be saved, but was told at the hospital that she needed to wait until either fetal cardiac activity stopped or her life was threatened to have an abortion. She quickly developed sepsis, undergoing intensive care for the life-threatening condition and an emergency induction. Because of the sepsis, one of Zurawski’s fallopian tubes permanently closed.

Lauren Hall, another plaintiff, says that she was told to travel to another state in secret to obtain an abortion after learning that her baby had anencephaly, a condition where the baby has a severely underdeveloped brain and no skull, and would not survive. She was further told that they were many risks to her continuing on with the pregnancy, including hemorrhaging and preterm birth. Her MFM specialist would neither refer her to an abortion provider nor transfer her medical records potentially out of fear that they could be prosecuted. 

The complaint notes that many of the plaintiffs had extremely confusing interactions with healthcare professionals regarding their health and the option of abortion, suggesting that their medical teams were too fearful of the consequences of talking about the procedure even when risks to the women’s health were mounting.

The lawsuit asks that the court declare that under the law, a physician using good-faith judgment should be able to provide an abortion for an emergency medical condition “that poses a risk of death or a risk to [a patient’s] health (including their fertility).”

The physicians in the case assert that the Texas laws prevent them from meeting their ethical obligations and providing necessary medical care. They say that hospitals, doctors, and medical associations in Texas have been asking for guidance to no avail.

Additional Reading

Suit filed on behalf of women denied abortions in Texas despite dangerous health complications, ABA Journal (March 8, 2023)

Five women who say they were denied abortions sue Texas, Reuters (March 8, 2023)

Women sue Texas over abortion ban, say it risked their lives, The Associated Press (March 7, 2023)

Zurawski v. Texas Petition for Declaratory Judgment

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