AUSTIN, Texas >> Five women who said they were denied abortions even when pregnancy endangered their lives are suing Texas over its abortion ban, the latest legal fight against state restrictions since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade.
The lawsuit filed Monday in state court said the Texas law, one of the strictest in the country, is creating confusion among doctors, who are turning away some pregnant women experiencing health complications because they fear repercussions.
“Nobody should have to wait until they are at death’s door to receive health care,” said Nancy Northup, CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is providing legal representation for the women.
Similar legal challenges to abortion restrictions have arisen in states across the country since the Supreme Court overturned the landmark 1973 decision establishing a constitutional right to abortion. As clinics have shuttered in Republican-dominant states with strict abortion bans, some patients have had to cross state lines.
According to the Texas suit brought by the five women and two doctors, one woman, Amanda Zurawski, was forced to wait until she developed blood poisoning before being provided an abortion. The four others had to travel out of state to receive medical care for pregnancy-related complications after doctors recommended an abortion because of the deteriorating condition of the woman, the baby or a twin — care that could not be legally provided in Texas.
“My doctor could not intervene as long as her heart was beating or until I was sick enough for the ethics board of the hospital to consider my life at risk and permit the standard health care I needed at that point,” Zurawski said today at a news conference, recalling her pregnancy after 18 months of fertility treatment with a baby she named Willow.
The group wants clarification of the law, which they say is written vaguely and has made medical professionals wary of facing liability if the state does not consider the situation a medical emergency.
In an email today, a spokesman for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said he 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.”
Doctors in the state now face felony criminal charges if they perform an abortion in all but limited cases in which the life of the patient is in danger.
John Seago, president of the anti-abortion group Texas Right to Life, said the lawsuit dealt with very specific medical situations, two of which were cases that the existing law would have protected as a medical emergency. In those cases, he said he would consider the lack of intervention medical malpractice.
“These doctors should not have waited,” Seago said, adding that Texas law does not require doctors to wait until a patient is near death.
Seago said the other three cases, dealing with disabilities of the fetus or a recommendation from a doctor to abort one fetus to give a twin a better chance of survival, would have been prohibited from an abortion. He said there seems to be a disconnect with medical practitioners regarding what is permissible and providing clarification is important.
Doctors in Texas are afraid to speak publicly about the situation for fear of retaliation, Dr. Damla Karsan said in the lawsuit, and “widespread fear and confusion regarding the scope of Texas’s abortion bans has chilled the provision of necessary obstetric care, including abortion care.”
At the news conference, Anna Zargarian described how she flew from Texas to Colorado to get an abortion after her water broke prematurely. Doctors told her she could become dangerously ill and the fetus would likely not survive.
“An already extremely difficult situation had an extra layer of trauma because of medical decisions that were made by lawmakers and politicians and not by me or based on best medical practice,” Zargarian said.
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