Testimony began Wednesday in a lawsuit that aims to clarify what the exceptions in Texas’ abortion ban really mean. Officially, the law allows abortions in cases that threaten the life of the mother or where continuing the pregnancy “poses a serious risk of substantial impairment of a major bodily function.” But in reality, many women are being denied abortion when their health is at risk, because doctors fear being accused of breaking the law. As a result, 15 women who’ve been affected by that are suing to force Texas to create a meaningful life or health exception—and the state is fighting back.
“Plaintiffs simply do not like Texas' restrictions on abortion,” according to a representative for the state of Texas. That’s the state’s actual argument. These women just … don’t like it.
In reality, the plaintiffs have experienced devastating medical emergencies as a direct result of the Texas abortion ban.
Amanda Zurawski’s water broke at 18 weeks. Her pregnancy was not viable at that point, but doctors told her she couldn’t have an abortion until the fetal heartbeat stopped, she went into labor, or she became acutely ill. She was left to suffer for days, developed sepsis, and nearly died. One of her fallopian tubes was closed by scar tissue that even surgery failed to remove.
”I felt like I'd been hit by a truck. It felt like the worst flu I had ever had in my life. I was so sore,” Zurawkski testified. “Every muscle in my body was so sore that I couldn't sit up without assistance. I couldn't roll over. I actually lost control of my bowels and soiled the bed multiple times, which was absolutely humiliating.”
But according to the state of Texas, she just doesn’t agree with the abortion ban.
Samantha Casiano, another of the plaintiffs, actually threw up in court while testifying about being forced to carry a pregnancy to term despite knowing that the baby could not survive. Her daughter, who had anencephaly, died four hours after birth. Casiano testified that she didn’t feel she could travel out of state for an abortion because “I couldn't do it alone. I was scared and I have children and I thought, 'I can't go to jail. I can't get this fine. How would I pay for that? I could lose my job.' It felt like I had no options.”
Another plaintiff, Ashley Brandt, did travel out of state for an abortion when she learned that one of the twins she was carrying had a similar fatal condition. She was in tears as she testified that, if she hadn’t been able to go out of state, “I would have had to give birth to an identical version of my daughter without a skull and without a brain and hold her until she died. Then I would have had to submit a death certificate and plan a funeral and decide if I wanted to bury her or cremate her. It just would have been heartbreaking. But instead I got to just give birth to my healthy daughter.”
Alice Ollstein reports that, according to the Texas attorney general’s office, this is all “in the past,” so the women shouldn’t get to sue to demand changes in the law. Attorneys for the state objected—unsuccessfully—to Zurawski’s testimony about the harm she suffered, saying it was “irrelevant.”
In addition to the women directly harmed by the Texas abortion ban, doctors are testifying that a lack of clarity about the exceptions prevents them from providing care to women whose health is at risk. “I'm not sure, legally, what percentage risk of dying would qualify,” one Houston doctor testified.
“Tens of thousands of Texans have already been denied abortions. By any measure, 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 abortion ban and two years later, still, no one knows,” Molly Duane, of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in her opening statement in the case.
The fact that Texas is fighting against having to clarify when the exceptions that are already written into the law apply gives the game away: The exceptions were never meant to be used. When women suffering miscarriages or threats to their health are denied care because doctors are worried they’ll get in trouble unless death is imminent, the law is working as intended.