Five women who were denied emergency abortion care in Texas sue the state over ‘barbaric’ restrictions

Five women who were denied abortions under several overlapping anti-abortion laws in Texas have filed a lawsuit against the state, marking the first time that pregnant women have sought legal action themselves after a wave of restrictions following the US Supreme Court’s decision to strike down Roe v Wade.

The state was the first to implement a near-total ban on abortion care, months before the Supreme Court struck down the constitutional right to abortion last June, triggering a wave of state-level legislation that restricts care and threatens providers with criminal penalties.

Under the state’s so-called trigger law designed to take effect without those constitutional protections affirmed by Roe v Wade, Texas doctors could face up to 99 years in prison for providing an abortion.

None of the state’s bans make exceptions for pregnancies from rape or incest, and conflicting exemptions in each law for receiving abortion care in the event of “medical emergencies” have resulted in widespread confusion among providers and hospitals fearing legal blowback, according to abortion rights advocates.

The plaintiffs, two of whom are pregnant, told their stories from outside the Texas capitol on 7 March, warning that the state’s anti-abortion measures expose pregnant patients to severe risk of illness, injury and death.

The five women, two doctors and the Center for Reproductive Rights, an abortion rights legal advocacy group, are suing Texas authorities to clarify emergency medical exceptions to the state’s anti-abortion laws.

Amanda Zurawski was “cruising through the second trimester” of her pregnancy and in the middle of planning a baby shower when “everything changed,” she said at a press conference.

Her obstetrician discovered that she dilated prematurely, and soon after her membranes ruptured, draining amniotic fluid and endangering the life of her expected child. Multiple doctors told her that the loss of her daughter was “inevitable” but, under Texas law, she was told that there was “nothing” they could do, she said.

“It meant that even though that complete certainty that we would lose Willow, my doctor could not intervene as long as her heart was beating or I was sick enough for the ethics board at the hospital to consider my life at risk and provide the standard healthcare I needed at that point: an abortion,” Ms Zurawski said.

“I cannot adequately put into words the trauma and despair that comes with waiting to lose your own life, your child’s life or both,” she added. “For days I was locked in this bizarre and avoidable hell: Will Willow’s heart stop or will I deteriorate to the brink of death?”

Anna Zargarian, one of five plaintiffs a lawsuit against Texas abortion laws, speaks in front of the state capitol in Austin, Texas on 7 March. (AP)
Anna Zargarian, one of five plaintiffs a lawsuit against Texas abortion laws, speaks in front of the state capitol in Austin, Texas on 7 March. (AP)

Within minutes, she developed sepsis and spent three days in a hospital intensive care unit, followed by another three days in another wing of the hospital.

“What I needed was an abortion, a standard medical procedure,” she said. “I needed an abortion to protect my life and the future lives of my babies that I dream and hope I can still have one day ... The barbaric restrictions our lawmakers passed are heaving real-life implications on real people. … More people have been and will continue to be harmed until we do something about it.”

Anna Zargarian, whose water broke at just 19 weeks of pregnancy after her membranes ruptured prematurely, was denied an abortion under Texas law despite the chances of her unborn child’s survival being “slim to none,” she said at the presser.

“My heart broke into a million pieces. I didn’t even know a pain like that could exist until that moment,” she said. “The child I was so excited for was not going to live, and I needed an abortion to preserve my health, and I could not get one in Texas.”

After looking for an open appointment with abortion providers in neighboring states, all of which were booked with a surge of patients after Texas’s laws were enacted, she ultimately found an appointment in Colorado.

“What I needed most in that moment was the choice that Texas lawmakers robbed me of: the choice to lose my child with dignity and respect for my body and wellbeing and future,” she said.

President Joe Biden’s administration has repeatedly urged Congress to pass legislation that would codify abortion protections under Roe v Wade precedent into law, a virtually impossible demand under a Republican-controlled House of Representatives that has endorsed nationwide abortion restrictions.

Vice President Kamala Harris, who has held a series of meetings with reproductive health advocates and state lawmakers in the wake of the Supreme Court decision, including one with a plaintiff in the Texas suit, has signalled her support.

“The lawsuit includes devastating, first-hand accounts of women’s lives almost lost after they were denied the health care they needed, because of extreme efforts by Republican officials to control women’s bodies,” she said in a statement.

“Many extremist ‘so-called’ leaders espouse ‘freedom for all,’ while directly attacking the freedom to make one’s own health care decisions. Like the overwhelming majority of Americans, the president and I believe women – in consultation with their doctors – should be in charge of their reproductive health care, not politicians,” she added.

Texas is also at the centre of a federal lawsuit challenging the commonly used abortion drug that is used for more than half of all abortions in the US. A decision from a federal judge in Amarillo who was appointed by Donald Trump could block the US Food and Drug Association’s 23-year-old approval of mifepristone, which would significantly disrupt access to medication abortion nationwide.

In a separate statement on 7 March, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said “stripping women of their right to make their own health care decisions endangers women’s health, with potentially life-threatening consequences.”

The Texas lawsuit filed by women patients magnified the “reality” of Republican Governor Greg Abbott’s anti-abortion measures, with “devastating, first-hand accounts of women’s lives almost lost after they were denied the healthcare they needed.”

“Horrifying details of needless pain. All because of extreme efforts by Republican officials to take away a woman’s right to choose. The stories told today – in 2023 in the United States of America – are shameful and unacceptable,” she added.

The Independent has requested comment from Governor Abbott’s office, who is among the defendants in the lawsuit along with state Attorney General Ken Paxton and the state medical board and its director.