AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — The Center for Reproductive Rights sued the state of Texas on behalf of five women and two doctors, seeking to affirm that physicians are allowed to perform abortions when a pregnant woman's life is at risk.
The lawsuit, filed late Monday in Travis County District Court, details the experiences of Amanda Zurawski, Lauren Miller, Lauren Hall, Anna Zargarian and Ashely Brandt, who say they were denied abortions despite their pregnancies all posing a risk to their health and safety.
The defendants in the suit include Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, the Texas Medical Board and the board's executive director, Stephen Brint Carlton.
Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said during a press conference Tuesday that the plaintiffs are seeking a court ruling that permits doctors to perform abortions in cases where the pregnant person has “a physical, emergent, medical condition that poses a risk to their life or health.”
In Texas, a physician found guilty of providing an abortion faces up to 99 years in prison and a minimum fine of $100,000, and can also lose their medical license. In addition to the state’s trigger law that automatically outlawed abortion after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, a civil statute known as the Texas Heartbeat Act remains active and allows private citizens to sue anyone who performs or helped someone obtain an abortion for a minimum of $10,000.
While the law criminalizing abortion provides an exception in cases where the life of the mother is threatened, doctors have ceased providing abortions altogether for fear of being prosecuted. Lawmakers and anti-abortion groups have stated that the aim of the ban is to end “elective abortion” and women suffering a medical emergency should still be allowed to obtain abortion care. Unlike other states, Texas does not provide an exception in cases of rape or incest.
During Tuesday’s press conference, Northup said that as a result of the state laws banning abortion, “it is dangerous to be pregnant in Texas.” Following her remarks, the affected women named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit shared their personal stories of being denied an abortion.
Speaking to a crowd of reporters, Zurawski described her experience during pregnancy as like something out of a “sick and twisted plot to a dystopian novel.”
Zurawski and her husband were attempting to start a family, and she even underwent fertility treatment to become pregnant. During the second trimester, her water broke and it was discovered by her physician that the membrane that surrounded her daughter, Willow, had ruptured, making her pregnancy no longer viable. This news came two days after the state law criminalizing abortion went into effect.
Doctors denied Zurawski an abortion, citing the new law, and told her that they could not intervene while her daughter was still alive or until she presented symptoms of a life-threatening condition. Such a condition materialized days later when her body went into sepsis, an extreme reaction caused by an infection in the body.
If she was allowed to have an abortion soon after her baby was determined not viable, Zurawski believes she would have avoided becoming extremely ill.
"It is with and for all Texans who, like me, are scared and outraged at the thought of being pregnant in this state," she said.
Hall said despite her baby having no skull, doctors in Texas refused to provide her with an abortion, leading her and her husband to travel to Seattle to receive the procedure. Similarly, Miller, Zargarian and Brandt all left the state to receive an abortion.
All five women are grieving the loss of their children and called out lawmakers for putting them in life-threatening situations.
Joining them as plaintiffs in the suit are Damla Karsan and Judy Levison, obstetricians who have for years practiced medicine and provided abortions in the state. Since the bans have taken effect, Karsan and Levison fear they and other physicians may be targeted for providing emergency abortions under circumstances similar to those of their co-plaintiffs. The two physicians say they only feel comfortable speaking out now because Karsan does not practice medicine at a state-funded hospital and Levison is in the process of retiring.
During this year's legislative session, Texas lawmakers have filed several bills relating to the types of exceptions allowing abortion procedures. Senate Bill 123 and House Bill 2215 would clarify that abortions are permitted once a fetus is determined nonviable or presents a risk to the health of the mother.
The lawsuit filing comes a day after state Senator Sarah Eckhardt, an Austin Democrat, filed Senate Bill 1314, which if passed would repeal prohibitions on state funds to family planning clinics such as Planned Parenthood.
“Senate Bill 1314 begins to correct the terrifying trajectory of women’s health in this state,” Eckhardt said during a press conference. “[The bill] will restore pathways to state and local funding for trusted community health care providers, like Planned Parenthood, in order to make vital and affordable reproductive health care more accessible for tens of thousands of Texans.”
Abortion rights advocates have for years criticized the state for its high maternal mortality rate, especially among women of color. Eckhardt said that increasing funding to clinics would significantly improve the health outcomes of expectant mothers.
The lawsuit filed Monday is the first of its kind filed by pregnant women and speaks to the legal ambiguity people and health care providers are facing in a post-Roe society. Texas is just one of 12 states that have made abortion illegal, leaving the possibility for similar cases to be filed in other states.
“This is the first lawsuit in the nation, but tragically, it is unlikely to be the last,” said Northup.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.