A Texas judge on Friday temporarily allowed abortions in cases of dangerous or complicated pregnancies, following emotional testimonies from women during a hearing last month about the impact of the state’s restrictive abortion laws on their bodies.
Judge Jessica Mangrum ruled in favor of a group of women and doctors who filed a lawsuit in March seeking clarity on the scope of the medical emergencies exception clause in the state’s abortion ban. The development is likely to be a key moment in the fight over how abortion restrictions affect those with medically complicated pregnancies.
In the ruling, Mangrum said that uncertainty on the exceptions and the “related threat of enforcement of Texas’s abortion bans” created a risk that doctors “will have no choice but to bar or delay the provision of abortion care to pregnant people in Texas for whom an abortion would prevent or alleviate a risk of death or risk to their health.” The judge set a trial date for March next year.
Texas has one of the country’s most restrictive laws on the procedure, banning it at six weeks, which experts say is before many people may even know they’re pregnant. The lawsuit is the first to be brought on behalf of women denied abortions in a state that enacted a new ban after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
“For the first time in a long time, I cried for joy when I heard the news,” Amanda Zurawski, the lead plaintiff, said in a statement, according to the Associated Press. “This is why we put ourselves through the pain and the trauma over and over again to share our experiences and the harms caused by these awful laws,” she said.
Due to Texas’s abortion ban, the lawsuit said, she could not have the procedure even as her fetus had no chance of surviving; she was only allowed to deliver after she became septic, leaving her with permanent physical damage. Her child died after birth.
During a hearing in late July, four of the women who filed the suit shared harrowing stories of their attempts to get medical help for complicated pregnancies that were doomed or endangered their lives under the state’s abortion ban.
One of the women said she was forced to leave the state to be able to protect her healthy twin when the other developed a fatal condition. Another said she was compelled to give birth to a fetus without a full skull due to the state’s laws.
The Center for Reproductive Rights, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of the plaintiffs, said the news was “huge.”
“Today’s ruling alleviates months of confusion around what conditions qualify as medical emergencies under Texas’ abortion bans, giving doctors permission to use their own medical judgment in determining when abortion care is needed,” it said in a statement.
The CRR argues that although the Texas abortion ban includes an exception for “medical emergencies” threatening the life of women, the law’s conflicting language is not clear on when doctors may provide such care. It adds that the “hostile abortion landscape” in the state has made doctors “afraid to rely on the exception” as they are at risk of being imprisoned, fined up to $100,000 and having their state medical licenses suspended.
Lawyers for the state of Texas had asked the judge to dismiss the case, claiming doctors who had misapplied the law were to blame for the women’s experiences.