Content warning: graphic discussion of deaths of infants resulting from abortion bans
A Texas court has heard arguments in a lawsuit that says the state’s strict abortion ban is preventing people who develop serious medical conditions during pregnancy from receiving the care they need.
Amanda Zurawski, one of the plaintiffs in the case, gave harrowing testimony on the witness stand about being denied an abortion after developing a condition that meant “miscarriage was inevitable.”
Zurawski said her doctor told her that they:
couldn’t intervene, because the baby’s heart was still beating and inducing labor would have been considered an illegal abortion.
Zurawski, whose water had broken prematurely, went into life-threatening septic shock and the fetus was stillborn. She told the court:
What happened to me is happening to people all across the country, not just in Texas. So many people are being hurt by similar restrictive bans and I’m hoping to spread awareness.
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The Center for Reproductive Rights filed the case. They said the suit is the first brought on behalf of people denied abortions since the US Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to the procedure just over a year ago.
Molly Duane, an attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in her opening argument at the two-day hearing in Austin:
Texas’ abortion bans are chilling the provision of medically necessary abortion care.
Duane said the bans were causing “unimaginable tragedy.” She continued:
Texas is in a health care crisis. The only issue in this case, however, is who should be getting abortions under the medical exception to the state’s abortion ban.
No one knows.
The complaint takes aim at the narrow medical exception in the state’s bans on terminating pregnancies. The complainants argue that the way it is defined is confusing and has stoked fear among doctors.
The case was filed in March on behalf of two obstetrician-gynecologists and five women who were denied abortions. This denial resulted in risks to the health, fertility, and lives of the pregnant people. Eight more women joined the case in Zurawski v. State of Texas in May, bringing the total number of plaintiffs to 15.
Rather than seeking to overturn the state’s ban, they want the court to offer greater clarity on when people facing pregnancy complications threatening their health can get abortions.
Samantha Casiano is one of the people involved in the lawsuit. A scan revealed that her unborn child had serious health defects and would not survive outside the womb for more than a few hours.
But with abortion now banned in Texas, Casiano was forced to carry the child to term, and then watch as her partner held their daughter in his arms as she died. Casiano told Agence France-Presse (AFP):
She went from being warm to cold.
It was horrible because I wanted my daughter to rest in peace sooner rather than later, and we had to wait until she was born.
Casiano further explained:
We found out that my daughter had anencephaly (lacked parts of the brain and skull) and that she would surely pass away before or after birth.
I hope that the law changes so other women don’t have to go through what I went through, and other fathers don’t have to see their child die in their hands.
Casiano’s partner Luis Villasana said that the couple could have faced jail if they were caught leaving the state to seek an abortion. He added that they also didn’t have enough money to travel and had to care for their other four children. He said:
It’s against the law. And then who’s going to take care of the kids that we already have? It was just too much. We’re trying to go on a straight path, we’re trying to do right.
My baby actually died in my arms. I held her the whole four hours.
I even called the doctors and asked like, hey, can you check my baby’s breathing because like, I feel like she’s like, losing the heartbeat.
In court, Casiano broke down remembering what she went through, before vomiting and being taken to the bathroom.
99 years in prison
Texas physicians found guilty of providing abortions face up to 99 years in prison, fines of up to $100,000, and the revocation of their medical license.
A state ‘trigger’ ban went into effect when Roe v. Wade was overturned in June 2022. Here, abortions were prohibited even in cases of rape or incest. Texas also has a law that allows private citizens to sue anyone who performs or aids an abortion.
These legal risks are causing a chilling effect among doctors, preventing them from providing necessary, life-saving abortions, contend the plaintiffs.
As a result, the lawsuit asks the court to create a binding interpretation of the “medical emergency” exception in the law, and argues physicians should be allowed to exercise “good faith” judgements on the qualifying conditions for an abortion, rather than leaving this to state lawmakers.
The plaintiffs are seeking a temporary injunction to block the abortion bans in the event of pregnancy complications while the full case is heard.
Zurawski spoke to reporters about her experiences, as well as on the witness stand. She was denied an abortion after developing a condition that meant miscarriage was inevitable. She told a news conference:
When I needed an emergency abortion care while pregnant with my daughter Willow, I was forced to go home and wait.
I nearly died because of the state of Texas’s inhumane abortion bans.
Another plaintiff, Lauren Miller, said:
Samantha’s daughter was gasping for air. Who would condemn that to anyone, much less a baby, that is just monstrous.
We should not be torturing babies and calling it pro-life.
Featured image via Unsplash/Gayatri Malhotra
Additional reporting by Agence France-PresseSupport us and go ad-free
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