Texas Supreme Court rules against women who say their lives were endangered by state abortion ban

"It’s sickening and wrong," lead plaintiff Amanda Zurawski said following the decision

Published May 31, 2024 3:59PM (EDT)

Abortion rights demonstrators gather near the State Capitol in Austin, Texas, June 25, 2022. (SUZANNE CORDEIRO/AFP via Getty Images)
Abortion rights demonstrators gather near the State Capitol in Austin, Texas, June 25, 2022. (SUZANNE CORDEIRO/AFP via Getty Images)

All nine Republican justices of the Texas Supreme Court rejected a challenge to the state's strict abortion ban on Friday that was brought by a group of women who said their lives were put at risk when they suffered serious pregnancy complications and could not access the necessary medical care.

The lawsuit, brought on by five women in March 2023, was the first legal challenge to the state’s ban to focus on women with complicated pregnancies, NBC News reported. The plaintiffs said that they were denied abortions even though the issues that arose during their pregnancies endangered their lives. They claimed this happened because the state's abortion law isn’t sufficiently clear when exceptions are allowed; the Texas court maintained that exceptions to the law as written might be broad but are definitely not unclear. 

“Texas law permits a life-saving abortion,” read the court order, signed by Justice Jane Bland. 

The case, Zurawski v. Texas, grew to include 20 women and two doctors. The plaintiffs also wanted medical professionals to have more autonomy to intervene should complications in pregnancies arise. In August, women in Texas gained a bit of respite when district court Judge Jessica Mangrum, who previously heard the case, issued a temporary injunction that prevented the state from enforcing the law against doctors who terminated unsafe pregnancies. 

Mangrum's ruling stated: “The Court finds that there is uncertainty regarding whether the medical exception to Texas’ abortion bans … permits a physician to provide abortion care where, in the physician’s good faith judgment and in consultation with the pregnant person, a pregnant person has a physical emergent medical condition.”

It's that ruling that was overturned Friday by the Texas Supreme Court, despite harrowing testimony from plaintiffs last year.

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Amanda Zurawski, the lead plaintiff, had testified that she nearly died in August 2022 because doctors delayed giving her a medically necessary abortion after serious complications in her 18-week pregnancy. She later went into sepsis, which is caused by an infection, and spent three days in the ICU. Doctors later advised her not to carry a baby again.

Texas' highest court ruled that the state law never required that the risk to a mother’s life be “imminent” when weighting whether they are eligible for an abortion. Because of this, the court wrote: “Ms. Zurawski’s agonizing wait to be ill ‘enough’ for induction, her development of sepsis, and her permanent physical injury are not the results the law commands,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

Zuawaski shared her anger with the decision in a statement Friday.

“I am outraged on behalf of my fellow plaintiffs who the Court deemed not sick enough,” she said after the ruling, the Associated Press reported. “We all deserve bodily autonomy. Every day, people in Texas are being told that they have no options. It’s sickening and wrong.”

The Texas law bans all abortions unless they save the life of a pregnant patient. In fact, doctors can lose their medical license, face up to 99 years in prison, or incur a $100,000 fine at minimum should they violate the law. And this is exactly the plaintiffs’ point — the ambiguity in the abortion ban of what precisely constitutes a medical emergency intimidates doctors, who may deny technically legal care because they fear liability. 

Ken Paxton, whose office defended the abortion ban before the Supreme Court, took to social media to praise the ruling. “I will continue to defend the laws enacted by the Legislature and uphold the values of the people of Texas by doing everything in my power to protect mothers and babies,” the Republican attorney general posted on X.

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