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Texas Sued Over Abortion Ban by Women With Risky Pregnancies

Bloomberg logo Bloomberg 3/7/2023 Madlin Mekelburg
Protesters take part in the Women's March and Rally for Abortion Justice at the State Capitol in Austin, Texas. © Photographer: SERGIO FLORES/AFP Protesters take part in the Women's March and Rally for Abortion Justice at the State Capitol in Austin, Texas.

(Bloomberg) -- Texas was sued by a group of women with high-risk pregnancies who claim the state’s sweeping abortion ban denies them potentially life-saving medical care.

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After the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year, Texas prohibited abortions, except in cases where a woman’s life is in jeopardy or there is a risk of “substantial impairment of a major bodily function.” But the lawsuit filed Monday night claims doctors often refuse to perform abortions under any circumstance for fear of being second-guessed and subject to career-destroying penalties.

“Abortion bans are hindering or delaying necessary obstetrical care,” the lawsuit states. “And, contrary to their stated purpose of furthering life, the bans are exposing pregnant people to risks of death, injury, and illness.”

Read more: Texas Abortion Ban Doesn’t Apply Outside the State, Judge Rules

The lawsuit, filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights, seeks to clarify the scope of those laws and asks a state judge in Texas to affirm that there are exceptions to the ban. It names Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, the Texas Medical Board and its executive director, Stephen Carlton.

“Paxton is committed to doing everything in his power to protect mothers, families, and unborn children, and he will continue to defend and enforce the laws duly enacted by the Texas Legislature,” said Jarrod Griffin, a spokesman for the state attorney general. Griffin noted Paxton issued an advisory last year stating that actions taken to save the life of a fetus, remove a dead fetus or remove an ectopic pregnancy are not considered abortion.

The Texas Medical Board did not return a request for comment.

The five women behind the lawsuit are all Texas residents who say they were thrilled to be pregnant but subsequently learned that their fetuses would not survive outside the womb. They describe being turned away from doctors’ offices in the state and being forced to travel out of state for abortions, despite risks to their own health from delaying care.

One woman said she became septic after being denied care, and one of her fallopian tubes permanently closed as a result. Two were pregnant with twins, one of which was non-viable, and had to travel out of state to have abortion that would save the life of their healthy fetuses. All described frustrating visits to doctors offices in Texas where medical staff would not speak directly about their options or answer questions about the possibility of an abortion being necessary.

“As my medical providers tried to counsel me on my options, they would stop mid-sentence looking for the words,” Lauren Miller, one of the women, said during a Tuesday press conference in Austin, Texas. “It was like they were afraid that they would be arrested just for saying the word abortion.”

Miller, who was pregnant with twins, was told that one of the fetuses had a rare genetic condition that would likely result in a stillbirth that could jeopardize the health of its twin. She recalled a conversation with a specialist shortly after learning about the condition. 

She said he pulled his gloves off and tossed them in the trash as he told her: “I can’t help you anymore. You need to leave the state.”

Read more: CVS, Walgreens Caught in Red-Blue Crossfire on Abortion Pill

Performing an illegal abortion is a first-degree felony under Texas law. Doctors would also face fines of at least $100,000 and could have their medical license revoked. They could also be subject to civil lawsuits under a state law known as Senate Bill 8, which allows any individual to sue someone for aiding and abetting an illegal abortion. Successful litigants can claim $10,000 or more in damages.

The case is Zurawski v. Texas, 23-000968, Texas District Court, County of Travis.

(Updates with comments from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and the women behind the lawsuit.)

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