Lone Star State Abortion Lawsuit Seeks to Clarify Ban
For pregnant women living in abortion-restricted states, an otherwise treatable pregnancy complication may prove life-threatening.
During a recent news conference on the lawn of the Texas Capitol in Austin, several women shared why they chose to sue the state over its current abortion ban, which effectively ends all access to abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.
Filed on March 6 by the Center for Reproductive Rights, the lawsuit seeks to clarify the abortion law's "medical emergency" exception, or instances when a woman needs an abortion in a lifesaving emergency.
In a separate Texas abortion lawsuit, a Galveston-area man claimed he is owed $1 million each in damages from three of his ex-wife's friends after they allegedly helped her obtain abortion-inducing medication while the couple was in the middle of a divorce, one month after the Supreme Court essentially overturned Roe v. Wade in June 2022.
Zurawski v. Texas
During the news conference on March 7, Amanda Zurawski, the lead plaintiff in Zurawski v. State of Texas, and three of her four co-plaintiffs shared how the state's ban created a culture of fear that kept doctors from providing the care she needed until she was near death.
In August 2022, after 18 months of fertility treatment and one day shy of being 18 weeks pregnant with her and her husband's first child, Zurawski said she was planning her baby shower when she began experiencing troubling symptoms. An urgent visit to the doctor determined cervical insufficiency had caused her to dilate prematurely.
"Soon after, my membranes ruptured, and we were told by multiple doctors that the loss of our daughter was inevitable," Zurawski said. "I asked what could be done to ensure the respectful passing of our baby and what could protect me from a deadly infection now that my body was unprotected and vulnerable."
She was informed there was little she could do but wait for her baby, which the couple named Willow, to die.
"My healthcare team was anguished as they explained there was nothing they could do because of Texas's anti-abortion laws, the latest of which had taken effect two days after my water broke," Zurawski said. "It meant that even though we would, with complete certainty, lose Willow, my doctor could not intervene as long as her heart was beating or until I was sick enough for the ethics board at the hospital to consider my life at risk and permit the standard healthcare I needed at that point: an abortion."
Three days later, Zurawski was rushed to the emergency room with sepsis, a deadly infection of the blood that can kill a person in fewer than 12 hours.
Instead of family traveling to celebrate her baby shower, Zurawski said her family flew in to be by her bedside during her six-day emergency hospital stay.
"An abortion would have prevented the unnecessary harm and suffering that I endured," she said. "Not only the psychological trauma that came with three days of waiting, but the physical harm my body suffered, the extent of which is still being determined. I needed an abortion to protect my life and to protect the lives of my future babies that I hope and dream I can still have one day."
Zurawski said she came forward with hopes that legal action can keep the same scenario from happening to other pregnant women.
"Texas officials claim the bans they passed protect 'life,' but there's nothing pro-life about them," she said. "I nearly died as a direct result of the anti-abortion restrictions in Texas."
Two obstetrician-gynecologists joined the five women in suing the state of Texas.
"As an OB-GYN, I have been providing maternal healthcare to Texans for many years," plaintiff Damla Karsan, M.D., said. "Abortion has always been a critical component of that care. Doctors routinely provide abortions to patients when a dangerous complication arises during pregnancy or when the fetus has a fatal condition.
"But since Texas' abortion bans took effect, my hands are tied in many situations," Karsan continued. "I've had to send patients to other states for abortion care that I could have easily given them right across the street at the hospital. I know most Texas doctors are scared to provide abortions in any circumstances or even say the word 'abortion.' We need clarity on what kinds of patients we can help without losing our license or ending up in jail."
Twelve states, including Texas, made abortion illegal in the months following the overturning of the nearly 50-year-old Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade, which protected a woman's constitutional right to abortion. Roe was overturned as part of the court's ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization.
The day the law was overturned, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott released a statement praising the end of legal abortion care in America.
"Texas will always fight for the innocent unborn, and I will continue working with the Texas Legislature and all Texans to save every child from the ravages of abortion and help our expectant mothers in need," Abbott said in June.
America's reproductive rights battle seems to have made its way to the United Nations.
Citing the overturning of Roe v. Wade in the United States, a March 2 letter written by a "coalition of 196 signatories" presented an "urgent appeal" to U.N. leaders to "to take up their calls to action, which include communicating with the U.S. regarding the human rights violations, requesting a visit to the U.S., convening a virtual stakeholder meeting with U.S. civil society, calls for the U.S. to comply with its obligations under international law, and calls for private companies to take a number of actions to protect reproductive rights."
About 22 million American women and girls of reproductive age live in states where abortion access is banned, the letter states.