Texas Supreme Court Dismisses Women Who Nearly Died From State Abortion Ban

Over 20 women represented by the Center for Reproductive Rights sued the state for endangering their lives because the state abortion ban's so-called medical emergency exception is too ambiguous to be effective. The state Supreme Court unanimously turned them away.

Texas Supreme Court Dismisses Women Who Nearly Died From State Abortion Ban

On Friday morning, the Texas Supreme Court unanimously rejected a landmark lawsuit filed by nearly two dozen women who say the state’s abortion ban endangered their lives due to the ambiguity of its exception for medical emergencies. First filed last year, the women’s lawsuit argued that because of the abortion ban, which threatens doctors with prison time and fines up to $100,000, emergency abortion care is being denied or delayed until patients are on the brink of death and sometimes forced to suffer long-term health ramifications.

During a two-day trial last summer, the plaintiffs, represented by the Center for Reproductive Rights, offered harrowing testimony about what the abortion ban forced them to endure as they suffered through nonviable, dangerous pregnancies and weren’t able to get the abortion care they needed. In August 2023, a Travis County judge sided with the plaintiffs and issued a temporary injunction that permitted Texans suffering from emergency pregnancy complications to receive abortion care as needed. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) immediately appealed this ruling, blocking it from taking effect pending a decision from the state Supreme Court.

And on Friday, the Texas Supreme Court overturned the Travis County judge’s ruling altogether and claimed that it “departed from the law as written without constitutional justification.” The opinion argues that “because the trial court’s order opens the door to permit abortion to address any pregnancy risk, it is not a faithful interpretation of the law.” The ruling was unanimous. It can really only be interpreted as Texas officials—yet again—dismissing pregnant people’s lives and inevitably condemning some to death.

Nancy Northrup, president of the Center, called the ruling “deeply offensive to the women we represent—they are completely written out of the opinion as though they don’t exist or matter.”

“We are enormously disappointed that most of the women who sued Texas for what happened to them have been rejected by the Court,” Northrup’s statement continues. The Center is currently evaluating any possible next steps: “It is unclear at this point if the case will continue but our legal team will be assessing what, if anything, remains of our clients’ claims.”

This latest ruling comes after, in December, the state Supreme Court also rejected a petition from a woman named Kate Cox, who sued for a right to an abortion for her nonviable, dangerous pregnancy. “Some difficulties in pregnancy, however, even serious ones, do not pose the heightened risks to the mother the exception encompasses,” the court’s opinion dismissively stated. Cox’s doctor, the opinion argued, failed to “attest to the court” that “Ms. Cox’s condition poses the risks the exception requires.” In response, Cox’s attorney pointed out that “no one in Texas is taking responsibility for the human suffering abortion bans are causing.”

“I felt that TX showed their cards with Kate. … As a provider, I love my patients so much. and I still wake up every morning, worried about them.” Dr. Austin Dennard, who also was denied an emergency abortion for herself, said on Friday.

The case of Zurawski v. Texas, which the state Supreme Court threw out today, marked the first legal challenge to a state abortion ban specifically on behalf of people suffering from severe pregnancy complications. The case, named for lead plaintiff Amanda Zurawski, stressed that medical emergency exceptions are ineffective because doctors don’t know at what point they can intervene. The threat of life in prison obviously pressures doctors to take a more conservative approach, at the expense of the pregnant person’s health and safety.

Zurawski testified that, in 2022, she nearly died after she was denied an emergency abortion even though her pregnancy wasn’t viable and threatened her life. Zurawski wound up contracting and nearly dying of 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. Initially, when Zurawski and her husband first learned their pregnancy wasn’t viable, she told the New York Times that they “didn’t even feel safe Googling options,” and “didn’t know what they could and couldn’t search” out of fear of surveillance and prosecution.

On Friday, Zurawski said she’s “outraged” by the court’s ruling in a statement shared with Jezebel. “Our Courts should acknowledge all of our suffering and vindicate our fundamental rights to reproductive autonomy. We should not need to beg elected officials for our right to control our own bodies.”

Another plaintiff, Samantha Casiano, testified that in 2022, she gave birth to a three-pound baby who died four hours after birth because she was denied an emergency abortion for her nonviable fetus. “I don’t know how the court could hear what I went through and choose to do nothing. Texas lawmakers claim to care about protecting ‘the unborn’, but in reality they made my family suffer,” Casiano said on Friday in a statement shared with Jezebel. “I joined this case to make sure no other family goes through that, and I’m devastated that the court is allowing this cruelty to continue. I am embarrassed to be a Texan because of these inhumane laws.”

Last summer, Travis County District Judge Jessica Mangrum wrote 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.” On Friday, the state Supreme Court made clear that it sees this pure disregard for Texas women’s lives as acceptable.

“This is not the last you’ll be hearing from us in this fight for justice,” Zurawski said.

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