The administration of US President Joe Biden has spoken out in support of a recently filed Texas abortion ban lawsuit led by five women who have been denied reproductive health care in the state.
On Tuesday, Vice President Kamala Harris issued a statement calling the women’s stories “devastating.”
“As the president and I have long made clear, taking away women’s right to make their own reproductive health care decisions puts women’s health at risk, with potentially life-threatening consequences,” Harris said.
The lawsuit, filed late Monday, seeks an injunction against Texas’ abortion ban because of what it calls “uncertainty” in the language of the law.
Currently, Texas has a near-total ban on abortion, enacted under Senate Bill 8 (SB 8), which went into effect in September 2021. But the law contains an exception for medical emergencies.
Monday’s complaint, however, says the exception is ill-defined, which has “caused and threatens to cause irreparable harm” to pregnant individuals who cannot 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 hanging over their heads, it is no wonder doctors and hospitals are turning away patients – even patients in medical emergencies,” the lawsuit explains.
Prosecutors have called on the county court in Travis County, Texas, to issue guidelines clarifying “the scope” of the state’s exceptions to abortion laws.
While challenging abortion bans is relatively common in the US, this is believed to be the first time pregnant women have filed a lawsuit challenging the restrictions since the Supreme Court’s 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 states in the US with a nearly complete ban on abortion. Many of them are clustered in Republican-led areas in the South: several of Texas’ neighbors, including Oklahoma, Louisiana and Arkansas, are also under near-total restrictions.
Each of the five women’s cases is explained in the court case. According to the documents, one of the accusers, 35-year-old Amanda Zurawski, had been trying for years to father a child with her husband, her childhood sweetheart.
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 the emergency room.
Doctors kept her overnight in hopes she would go into premature labor, the lawsuit explains. “Amanda was told that under the Texas 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 take 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 grant 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 was permanently blocked.
“Because of the Texas abortion ban, she almost lost her own life and spent days in the ICU for septic infections whose lasting effects threaten her fertility and make it more difficult, if not impossible, to conceive again in the future. ”explains the lawsuit.
Another woman named 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 problems threatening both Miller and the second fetus, doctors in Texas felt unable to abort the twins, the lawsuit said.
Miller eventually had to leave the state to have the abortion, and her pregnancy with the other twins proceeded “without complications”.
Other women in the lawsuit described stress, anxiety and depression as they were forced to seek out-of-state abortions to avoid potentially life-threatening health crises.
Some also had to navigate the logistics of travel while dealing with the possibility of septic shock or premature birth.
“Abortion bans impede or delay necessary obstetric care,” the lawsuit reads.
“Contrary to their stated purpose of advancing life, the bans expose pregnant people to risks of death, injury and disease, including loss of fertility – making it less likely that any family seeking to bring children into the world will be able to will be to do so and survive the experience.
A spokesman for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a statement via email responding to the lawsuit.
In it, Paxton’s office affirmed that the Republican is “determined to do everything in his power to protect mothers, families and unborn children, and will continue to defend and enforce the laws duly enacted by the Legislature power of Texas”.
The Democrat-led White House, meanwhile, denounced “ongoing attacks on women’s health care” in a news conference on Tuesday.
Karine Jean-Pierre, White House press secretary, linked Monday’s lawsuit to a bill introduced Tuesday in Florida 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 the content “gruesome details of needless pain, all because of extreme efforts by Republican officials to strip away a woman’s ability to make her own health care decisions.”