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Travis County court hears case seeking clarity in medical exception to Texas abortion law

Amanda Zurwaski speaks at a Center for Reproductive Rights press conference outside the Texas Capitol in March.
Patricia Lim
Amanda Zurawski speaks at a Center for Reproductive Rights press conference outside the Texas Capitol in March.

Women from across Texas will head to a state district court in Austin on Wednesday to testify in a case that could determine access to certain emergency abortion services in the state.

The Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit against the state in March on behalf of five women who were denied abortions amid serious pregnancy complications, as well as two Texas obstetricians, Dr. Judy Levison and Dr. Damla Karsan. Eight more women have since joined the suit.

The case — Zurawski v. State of Texas — is thought to be the first in which women have directly sued a state over abortion rights since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision overturned the federal right to abortion last year. Increased abortion restrictions followed in states including Texas, which had previously passed a six-week abortion ban known as Senate Bill 8 in Sept. 2021. The state’s so-called “trigger law” outlawed nearly all abortions, with a narrow exception in the case of medical emergencies.

“The experiences of the women — all of whom had wanted pregnancies — clearly demonstrate that the state’s abortion bans are endangering the health, fertility and lives of patients facing severe pregnancy complications,” said Molly Duane, senior staff attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights. “The court must act to immediately block these dangerous laws and prevent further irreparable harm to even more Texans.”

Amanda Zurawski, the lead plaintiff in the case, has told her story in multiple platforms, including in a testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee in April. She said that she was forced to wait until she was in sepsis to have her pregnancy terminated, three days after doctors had determined her pregnancy would inevitably end in miscarriage.

“I would stay [in the ICU] for three days as medical professionals battled to save my life,” Zurawski told the committee. “I spent another three days in a less critical unit of the hospital, all because I was denied access to reasonable health care due to Texas’ new abortion bans.”

Plaintiffs argue that the language of the medical exception to Texas' abortion ban is murky and prevents physicians from providing essential medical care due to fear of severe legal penalties; physicians who violate the law could lose their licenses, face prison time and be fined at least $100,000. They want the court to create a binding interpretation of the exception that allows physicians to exercise their “good faith judgment in consultation with the pregnant person.”

During this week’s hearing, the plaintiffs are seeking a temporary injunction blocking Texas’ abortion ban as it pertains to pregnancy complications for the duration of the case. The court will also hear the state’s argument to dismiss the case.

The hearing is set to continue through Thursday.

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Olivia Aldridge is KUT's health care reporter. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on X @ojaldridge.
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