5 Texas women denied abortions sue the state, saying the bans put them in danger

Five women in Texas were denied abortions while they faced medical emergencies. They are now suing the state to clarify the exceptions.

“[The women] were denied life-saving and necessary obstetrical care by medical professionals across Texas,” states the lawsuit filed in state court on behalf of the Center for Reproductive Rights and the two doctors.

Molly Duane is a senior staff attorney at the center. “Just because Roe V. Wade has been repealed does not mean that pregnant women or people without basic constitutional rights are exempt from it,” she said. “We are talking about people in medical emergency, who require urgent medical care, and whose doctors are too afraid to give that care due to the state’s laws or the failure of the state to clarify its meaning.”

Plaintiff in the suit is Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. His office replied Tuesday that Paxton “will continue defending and enforcement the laws duly enacted Texas Legislature” as well as forwarding a “guidance note” regarding the state ban triggered in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization by the U.S Supreme Court.

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There are very few exceptions

Texas was the first state in the country to institute a near-total ban on abortion. The law, known as SB8, took effect September 2021. Individuals could file civil lawsuits against anyone who provided or assisted with an abortion. The law allowed for thousands of dollars in damages. There are limited exceptions to the law for medical emergencies.

The Dobbs decision in June allowed about a dozen states to implement abortion bans. This included Texas’ “trigger ban”, which made almost all abortions a crime and allowed for only very narrow exceptions to save the life of a pregnant woman.

“Somebody will die eventually”

Lauren Miller and Anna Zargarian, two of the plaintiffs in this new lawsuit, previously shared their stories with NPR.

Zargarian spoke to NPR in her first name, fearing repercussions from her doctor or herself. She agreed to make her full name public as part of the lawsuit. Zargarian was denied an abortion by her doctors after her water broke at 19 weeks. This was too soon for the baby to survive. She flew to Colorado to terminate her pregnancy, fearing severe infection.

Zargarian said to NPR that Zargarian came forward because she felt it was important to share her story. Because someone is going to die one day.”

More Texas patients with complex pregnancies became disqualified in the months to come. Many of these women were also facing life-threatening situations. Ashley Brandt and Miller both had complicated twin pregnancies. Doctors advised them to terminate one twin to ensure the health and well-being of both the mother and the twins.

Four of the five women left Texas in order to have abortions elsewhere, including Colorado and Washington.

Doctors are afraid of prison and fines

Damla Karsan, a Texas doctor, and Judy Levison are also suing the state for their patients and themselves. According to the lawsuit, doctors who break Texas’ abortion bans may face severe sanctions.

The suit states that “with the threat of losing their medical licensures, fines in excess of 100 thousand dollars and up to 99 year imprisonment lingering over them, it is no surprise that doctors and hospitals have been turning away patients–even those in medical emergencies.”

Some abortion rights activists have been confronted by doctors complaining that they are unable to perform abortions in an emergency situation. Fearing being afoul state law, they accuse medical groups of not helping doctors understand the laws.

John Seago, Texas Right to Life’s major advocate in pushing SB 8 through Texas’s state Legislature, stated that it was “politically beneficial for some of the groups that oppose the bill… to just declare this is unreasonable.”

Looking for clarity?

At the time, organizations such as the Texas Association of Obstetricians and Gynologists resisted, claiming that the laws were too vague for physicians to be assured they wouldn’t face legal consequences.

Duane from the Center for Reproductive Rights says that the suit’s goal is to force Texas to give clear guidelines to doctors who have pregnant patients in Texas who are at risk of serious medical complications.

“What should a Texas doctor do right now?” Duane says they had no other choice than to speak up and get clarification. “They displayed tremendous courage in doing this.”