The administration of United States President Joe Biden has spoken out in support of a recently filed lawsuit against Texas’s abortion ban, led by five women who were denied reproductive healthcare in the state.
On Tuesday, Vice President Kamala Harris issued a statement calling the women’s stories “devastating”.
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“As the President and I have long made clear: taking away the right of women to make their own reproductive health care decisions endangers women’s health, with potentially life-threatening consequences,” Harris said.
The lawsuit, filed late on Monday, seeks an injunction against Texas’s abortion ban because of what it calls “uncertainty” in the law’s language.
Currently, Texas has a near-total ban on abortion, enacted under Senate Bill 8 (SB 8), which took effect in September 2021. But the law includes an exception for medical emergencies.
Monday’s complaint, however, says the exception is poorly defined, which has “caused and threatens to cause irreparable injury” to pregnant individuals unable to receive life-saving care.
“With the threat of losing their medical licenses, fines of hundreds of thousands of dollars, and up to 99 years in prison lingering over their heads, it is no wonder that doctors and hospitals are turning patients away — even patients in medical emergencies,” the lawsuit explains.
The plaintiffs have called on the District Court in Travis County, Texas, to issue guidance “clarifying the scope” of the exceptions to the state’s abortion laws.
While challenges to abortion bans are relatively common in the US, this is believed to be the first instance where pregnant women have led a lawsuit against the limitations since the Supreme Court decision to strike down Roe v Wade in June 2022.
That decision ended the constitutional right to abortion, which had been in effect for nearly 50 years.
Texas is one of 13 US states to have a near-total abortion ban. Many of them are clustered in Republican-led areas of the south: Several of Texas’s neighbours, including Oklahoma, Louisiana and Arkansas, likewise have near-total restrictions.
Each of the five women’s cases is explained in the lawsuit. According to the documents, one of the plaintiffs, 35-year-old Amanda Zurawski, had been trying to conceive a child with her husband — her childhood sweetheart — for years.
She finally got pregnant in 2022, but 17 weeks into the pregnancy, her cervix started to dilate prematurely. Her water broke and she was soon admitted to an emergency room.
Doctors kept her overnight in the hope she would go into premature labour, the lawsuit explains. “Amanda was told that, under Texas’s abortion ban, there was no other medical care the hospital could provide.”
Doctors made it clear the fetus would not survive, the lawsuit says. But faced with an uncertain delivery that could last hours, days or even weeks, the hospital sent Zurawski home. There, she developed sepsis, a serious and sometimes fatal condition.
Only then could the doctors provide an abortion, the lawsuit explains.
In septic shock, she was admitted to an intensive care unit (ICU) and treated for three days. But the infection caused scar tissue so severe that one of her fallopian tubes became permanently closed.
“Because of Texas’s abortion bans, she nearly lost her own life and spent days in the ICU for septic infections whose lasting impacts threaten her fertility and, at a minimum, make it more difficult, if not impossible, to get pregnant again in the future,” the lawsuit explains.
Another woman mentioned in the lawsuit, Lauren Miller, was pregnant with twins, one of whom had abnormalities that made the fetus unlikely to survive, including limited brain development and an incomplete abdominal wall.
But despite health issues that threatened both Miller and the second fetus, doctors in Texas felt unable to abort the twin, according to the lawsuit.
Miller ultimately had to travel out of state to receive the abortion, and her pregnancy with the other twin proceeded “without complications”.
Other women in the lawsuit described stress, anxiety and depression as they were forced to seek abortions outside the state to avoid potentially life-threatening health crises.
Some also had to navigate the logistics of travel while contending with the possibility of septic shock or premature labour.
“Abortion bans are hindering or delaying necessary obstetrical care,” the lawsuit reads.
“Contrary to their stated purpose of furthering life, the bans are exposing pregnant people to risks of death, injury and illness, including loss of fertility — making it less likely that every family who wants to bring children into the world will be able to do so and survive the experience.”
A spokesperson for Texas’s Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a statement via email responding to the lawsuit.
In it, Paxton’s office affirmed that the Republican 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”.
The Democrat-led White House, meanwhile, blasted the “continued attacks on women’s healthcare” in a press briefing on Tuesday.
In her remarks, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre tied Monday’s lawsuit to a bill introduced in Florida on Tuesday to ban nearly all abortions after six weeks.
“We know that these bans are already having a devastating impact on women’s health,” Jean-Pierre said, pointing to the Texas lawsuit.
She called its contents “horrifying details of needless pain, all because of extreme efforts by Republican officials to take away a woman’s ability to make her own healthcare decisions”.