Texas Judge Sides With Women Plaintiffs, Temporarily Blocks State Abortion Bans

The judge ruled that the 13 women who sued were wrongfully denied emergency abortion care and that doctors can't be prosecuted for using "good faith judgment."

Texas Judge Sides With Women Plaintiffs, Temporarily Blocks State Abortion Bans
Photo:Rick Kern (Getty Images)

A Texas judge on Friday afternoon ruled in favor of a group of women and doctors who sued the state over a dangerously ambiguous exception to the state’s abortion bans in the case of Zurawski v. State of Texas. Travis County District Judge Jessica Mangrum issued an injunction to temporarily block Texas’ abortion bans, specifically as they apply to severe pregnancy complications including life-threatening fetal diagnoses. Mangrum also ruled that Texas’ SB8—the famous “bounty hunter” law that allows citizens to sue those who help people have abortions—is unconstitutional.

Among the 15 plaintiffs are 13 Texas women who say they almost died from life-threatening pregnancy-related complications and were still unable to get emergency abortion care, even though the state’s abortion bans include a hypothetical exception for such cases. Four of the women offered gut-wrenching testimony about their experiences in court last month, and one of them began to vomit while at the witness stand when asked about the specifics of her harrowing experience. Under current law in Texas, health care providers face the threat of life in prison, a $100,000 fine, and loss of their medical license if they provide an abortion that appears to run afoul of the murky guidelines.

In her ruling, Mangrum specified that the 13 women were wrongfully denied abortion care, clarified when doctors can provide abortions for medical emergencies, and stated that doctors can use their own “good faith judgment” to determine when to offer abortion care without being prosecuted. According to Mangrum, “Physical medical conditions include, at a minimum: a physical medical condition or complication of pregnancy that poses a risk of infection, or otherwise makes continuing a pregnancy unsafe for the pregnant person; a physical medical condition that is exacerbated by pregnancy, cannot be effectively treated during pregnancy, or requires recurrent invasive intervention; and/or a fetal condition where the fetus is unlikely to survive the pregnancy and sustain life after birth.”

Mangrum also noted that “uncertainty regarding the scope of the medical exception and the related threat of enforcement of Texas’s abortion bans” means that doctors “will have no choice but to bar or delay the provision of abortion care to pregnant persons in Texas for whom an abortion would prevent or alleviate a risk of death or risk to their health… for fear of liability under Texas’s abortion bans.”

To be clear, this isn’t a unilateral victory and is expected to be a temporary one. In Texas state court, a ruling is automatically stayed when it’s appealed. This means that once the state appeals Mangrum’s ruling, as it’s expected to, the injunction will be temporarily blocked.

Nonetheless, the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is representing the plaintiffs, is celebrating the ruling as an important step in a longer legal fight. Nancy Northup, president of CRR, called the decision “a win for Texans with pregnancy complications,” adding that “it would be unconscionable for the State of Texas to appeal this ruling.”

In her own statement, lead plaintiff Amanda Zurawski said she “cried for joy when I heard the news” of the decision. “This is exactly why we did this. This is why we put ourselves through the pain and the trauma over and over again to share our experiences and the harms caused by these awful laws,” Zurawski said. Last year, Zurawski nearly died after she was denied an emergency abortion even after learning her pregnancy wasn’t viable and threatened her life and wound up contracting sepsis. She eventually received emergency care, but not before her right fallopian tube permanently closed and her whole uterus collapsed, jeopardizing her fertility even as she still hopes to have kids.

In a particularly dark move, the state of Texas cited Zurawski and other plaintiffs’ fertility struggles—which, in some cases, were created or worsened by being denied emergency abortion care—as one of its arguments to have the suit dismissed. The state argued that the women don’t have standing, because it’s not certain they’ll become pregnant and experience complications again. Zurawski responded to this in court in July, calling this framing “infuriating” and “ironic,” and adding, “Do they not realize the reason why I might not be able to get pregnant again is because of what happened to me as a result of the laws that they support?”

Zurawski was joined in the suit by a woman named Samantha Casiano, who last year gave birth to a three-pound baby who died four hours after birth because she was denied an emergency abortion for her nonviable fetus.

Speaking to Jezebel, another plaintiff who became severely ill after being denied emergency abortion care and was forced to travel out-of-state for the procedure, now says she lives with fear of getting pregnant again. Taylor Edwards, who’s relied on IVF to get pregnant, began her first IVF cycle since being denied care by Texas hospitals in February, and told Jezebel that she and her husband are “absolutely terrified” because of what Texas’ abortion bans subjected them to.

The injunction issued Friday marks an important, albeit temporary, victory for these women and their doctors.

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