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“Barbaric Restrictions”: 5 Women Sue Texas After Being Denied Abortions Despite Deadly Health Risks

Written by on 10/03/2023

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to end today’s show in Texas, where five women are suing Texas after they were denied abortions, even as their pregnancies posed serious risk to their health and were nonviable. The Center for Reproductive Rights is bringing the lawsuit on behalf of women and two doctors. They held a news conference Tuesday in Austin. We begin with Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, who introduced Amanda Zurawski. First, Nancy Northup.

NANCY NORTHUP: The Supreme Court’s unwarranted reversal of Roe v. Wade has resulted in a healthcare crisis in states across the nation, including here in the state of Texas. It is now dangerous to be pregnant in Texas. Doctors and hospitals are turning patients away, even those in medical emergencies. Patients are being denied necessary, life-saving obstetrical care. Why? Because abortion is a crime in Texas, punishable by up to 99 years in prison. What the law is forcing physicians to do is weigh these very real threats of criminal prosecution against the health and well-being of their patients.

We filed this lawsuit last night to stop the unnecessary pain, suffering, injury and life-threatening complications caused by Texas’s abortion ban. We filed this lawsuit so that patients will not be hindered, delayed or denied necessary obstetrical care, including abortion care.

This is the first lawsuit of its kind. It is the first lawsuit in which individual women have sued a state for the harm that they endured because abortion care has been criminalized in the wake of Roe’s reversal. Five women have come forward to sue the state of Texas in this case: Amanda Zurawski, Lauren Miller, Lauren Hall, Anna Zargarian and Ashley Brandt. Each of them — each of them — suffered severe complications during their pregnancies.

These five women are joined in this lawsuit by two obstetricians — Dr. Damla Karsan and Dr. Judy Levison — who can no longer practice medicine as they were trained, because Texas abortion bans pose catastrophic risks to their liberty.

What we are seeking is a ruling from the court that clearly permits doctors to provide a pregnant patient with abortion care when, in the doctor’s good-faith judgment, and in consultation with the patient, the doctor determines that the patient has a physical emergent medical condition that poses a risk to their life or health. No one should be forced to wait until they are at death’s door to receive healthcare.

Such a ruling that we are seeking is the correct interpretation of Texas’s abortion bans. It is also required under the Texas Constitution, which protects life, liberty, equality and the right to be free from sex discrimination. These rights are guaranteed to every Texan, and they do not disappear because they are pregnant.

Right now abortion bans are exposing pregnant people to risks of death, illness and injury, including the loss of fertility. Contrary to the stated purpose of furthering life, abortion bans are making it less likely that every family who wants to bring a child into the world will be able to do so and survive the experience.

These women you will hear from today represent only the tip of the iceberg. This is the first lawsuit in the nation, but, tragically, it is unlikely to be the last. This lawsuit, Zurawski v. Texas, seeks to rightfully return the life-and-death medical decisions to patients and their doctors, and not leave them up to politicians and state officials.

Now I would like to ask Amanda to come to the mic.

AMANDA ZURAWSKI: Thank you. Hello. My name is Amanda Zurawski, and I’m here to tell you a little bit about my experience with the Texas abortion bans. Thank you for being here.

Indulge me for a moment and close your eyes. Picture someone you hold incredibly dear. Can you see them? Good. Now imagine someone telling you that you’re going to lose that person in the very near future, but they can’t tell you exactly when or how. And on top of that, there’s a very high likelihood that you will get extremely sick, maybe even near death, as you wait for that person you love to die. Sounds like a pretty sick and twisted plot to a dystopian novel, but it’s not. It’s exactly what happened to me while pregnant in Texas.

About six months ago, I was thrilled to be cruising through the second trimester of my very first pregnancy. I was carrying our daughter, Willow, who had finally blissfully been conceived after 18 months of grueling fertility treatment. My husband and I were beyond thrilled.

Then, on a sunny August day, after I had just finished the invite list for the baby shower my sister was planning for me, everything changed. Some unexpected and curious symptoms arrived, and I contacted my obstetrician to be safe, and was surprised when I was told to come in as soon as possible. After a brief examination, my husband and I received the harrowing news that I had dilated prematurely due to a condition known as cervical insufficiency. Soon after, my membranes ruptured, and we were told by multiple doctors that the loss of our daughter was inevitable.

I asked what could be done to ensure the respectful passing of our baby and what could protect me from a deadly infection, now that my body was unprotected and vulnerable. My healthcare team was anguished as they explained there was nothing they could do because of Texas’s anti-abortion laws, the latest of which, by the way, had taken effect two days after my water broke.

It meant that even though we would, with complete certainty, lose Willow, my doctor could not intervene as long as her heart was beating, or until I was sick enough for the ethics board at the hospital to consider my life at risk and permit the standard healthcare I needed at that point — an abortion. So, even though I had lost all of my amniotic fluid, something an unborn child simply cannot survive without, we had to wait.

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

The answer arrived three very long days later. In a matter of minutes, I went from being physically healthy to developing sepsis, a condition in which bacteria in the blood develops into infection, with the ability to kill in under an hour. I spent the next three days in the intensive care unit surrounded by my family, who booked last-minute flights because they feared for my life. I spent another three days in a less critical unit of the hospital, all because I was denied access to reasonable healthcare due to Texas’s new abortion bans.

What I needed was an abortion, a standard medical procedure. An abortion would have prevented the unnecessary harm and suffering that I endured, not only the psychological trauma that came with three days of waiting, but the physical harm my body suffered, the extent of which is still being determined. I needed an abortion to protect my life and to protect the lives of my future babies that I dream and hope I can still have someday.

Two things I know for sure. The preventable harm inflicted on me will medically make it harder than it already was for me to get pregnant again. The barbaric restrictions our lawmakers have passed are having real-life implications on real people. I may have been one of the first who was affected by the overturning of Roe in Texas, but I’m certainly not the last. More people have been and will continue to be harmed until we do something about it. The people in the building behind me have the power to fix this, yet they’ve done nothing. In fact, they’re currently trying to pass even more restrictive measures.

So it’s not just for me and for our Willow that I stand here before you today. It’s for every pregnant person and for everyone who knows and loves a pregnant person. It is with and for all Texans who, like me, are scared and outraged at the thought of being pregnant in this state that I stand and fight. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Amanda Zurawski, one of five women suing Texas after they were denied abortions even as their pregnancies posed serious risks to their health and were nonviable. Two doctors are also suing. The case was brought by the Center for Reproductive Rights. They held the news conference in Austin, Texas. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Thanks for joining us.

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