Women denied abortions sue Texas to affirm exceptions to the laws

Five Texas women who say they were denied medically necessary abortions are suing the state, seeking to clarify when the procedure is permissible under state law, The New York Times reported Monday.

The lawsuit will be formally announced at a press conference Tuesday, where the women will share their experiences navigating life-threatening pregnancy complications in the largest state in the nation to ban abortion.

The plaintiffs are not asking the courts to overturn Texas’ abortion bans, but rather to affirm that doctors can provide abortions in cases where continuing the pregnancy would be unsafe, or if the fetus is unlikely to survive outside the womb, the Times reported.

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Texas’ abortion laws allow doctors to terminate pregnancies only to save the life of the pregnant patient. There have been several bills filed to widen those exceptions to allow abortion in cases of rape or incest, or pregnancy anomalies that make the fetus incompatible with life, but they are not expected to advance in the Republican-dominated Legislature.

Lauren Hall outside her home on Sept. 10. Hall had a nonviable pregnancy and had to leave the state in order to terminate, revealing gaps in the state’s miscarriage exception after Roe v. Wade was overturned. (Shelby Tauber for The Texas Tribune)

Lauren Hall, one of the plaintiffs named in the suit, was thrilled when she learned she was pregnant. But at her 20-week anatomy scan, she learned that her fetus was developing without a skull, a lethal fetal anomaly known as anencephaly.

Hall’s doctor said they couldn’t help her, she told The Texas Tribune in September. She would have to remain pregnant until she miscarried or delivered a baby that could not survive outside the womb.

Or, the doctor quietly suggested, Hall and her husband could leave the state.

"And she said, ‘If you do that, don’t tell anybody why you’re traveling, don’t tell your jobs, don’t tell anyone at the airport,’" Hall told the Tribune. "Which sounds extreme, but Roe had just been overturned. Everyone was so scared."

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This tragic, earth-shattering news, and the unimaginable choice she now faced, sparked a mental health crisis, Hall said. But she worried that telling a health care provider about her situation would invite more questions and, potentially, legal repercussions.

Hall and her husband eventually cobbled together the money to buy last-minute flights to Seattle, where she was able to get an abortion. Hall said many people in her life had no idea how narrow the exceptions in the law were until she experienced it firsthand.

"They were just all shocked, like, ‘Surely, there’s an exception for this,’" Hall said. "It just didn’t occur to them that a ban would include cases like this."

One of the other plaintiffs, Amanda Zurawski, learned at 17 weeks of pregnancy that she was miscarrying and at a high risk for infection. But the fetus still had a heartbeat and her life wasn’t in danger, so she was sent home until she became septic.

Zurawski, who attended the State of the Union in February as First Lady Jill Biden’s guest, was left physically and emotionally scarred by the delay; one of her fallopian tubes is permanently closed, and, she told the Times, she’s terrified as she resumes in vitro fertilization treatment.

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The lawsuit will be filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights, a New York legal group that has led many of the recent legal fights to protect abortion access. The Center for Reproductive Rights unsuccessfully challenged Texas’ Senate Bill 8, which in 2021 banned abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy, and argued on behalf of Jackson Women’s Health Organization in the case that overturned Roe v. Wade last summer.

The group says this new Texas suit is the first lawsuit brought by people who have had their pregnancy care directly impacted by new, post-Roe abortion laws.

"I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything like this in the nation, having people with pregnancy complications having to sue the state," Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, told the Times. "It puts a face on the reality of what it means when you criminalize abortion care. It shows that abortion care is health care."

Disclosure: The New York Times has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

This article originally appeared in the Texas Tribune. Read more: https://www.texastribune.org/2023/03/07/texas-abortion-lawsuit/