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Five women sue Texas over near-total abortion ban

Plaintiffs Anna Zargarian (L), Amanda Zurawski, Lauren Hall and Lauren Miller with Molly Duane, Center for Reproductive Rights attorney, (R) speak to reporters Wednesday out front of the Texas Capitol building in Austin on Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Center for Reproductive Rights/Release
Plaintiffs Anna Zargarian (L), Amanda Zurawski, Lauren Hall and Lauren Miller with Molly Duane, Center for Reproductive Rights attorney, (R) speak to reporters Wednesday out front of the Texas Capitol building in Austin on Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Center for Reproductive Rights/Release

March 8 (UPI) -- Five women who say they were harmed by Texas' near-total abortion ban are suing their state in a first-of-its-kind lawsuit brought by patients who were denied the medical procedure they needed due to the controversial prohibition that was put in place following the overturning of Roe vs. Wade.

The lawsuit was filed Monday by the Center of Reproductive Rights on behalf of the five women and two physicians asking the judge to clarify exceptions under Texas' abortion ban that permit women who require an abortion access to the medical procedure.

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The five women in the lawsuit say their conditions qualified them for an abortion under the state's strict laws, but were denied the medical procedure, causing their health to further deteriorate and putting their lives and fertility at risk.

Texas' Republican governor, Greg Abbott, in September of 2021 signed into law a statewide ban on abortions after about six weeks' pregnancy, which is often before one knows they are pregnant.

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A so-called trigger ban threatening doctors who perform abortion with up to 99 years' imprisonment and a $100,000 fine then went into effect when the conservative-leaning Supreme Court revoked federal protections for abortion in June of last year by overturning the landmark 1973 Roe vs. Wade ruling.

These laws have effectively banned all abortions in the state as it has forced physicians to weigh the threats of prosecution against providing their patients with the healthcare they need, said Nancy Northup, chief executive director and president of the Center for Reproductive Rights.

"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," she said.

Northup spoke Tuesday during a press conference outside the Texas Capitol building alongside four of the five women who filed the lawsuit a day prior.

She described the five women as only the "tip of the iceberg" in terms of the number women who have been and will be negatively harmed by state-level abortion bans being sought following the end of Roe vs. Wade.

"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," she said.

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Austin-resident Amanda Zurawski compared her experience being pregnant in Texas to "a pretty sick and twisted plot to a dystopian novel," saying she was subjected to trauma and despair that could not be put into words as she was forced to wait to either lose her life, that of her fetus or both.

"For days I was locked in this avoidable hell," she said.

Zurawski told reporters that at 18 weeks of pregnancy she had suffered a complication that would cause her fetus she named Willow to die, but as doctors could still detect fetal cardiac activity an abortion could not be performed.

"It meant that even though that 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," she said.

Three days later and after being diagnosed with sepsis, she received an abortion but the infection resulted in one of her fallopian tubes to be permanently closed, compromising her ability to have another child.

She added that the extent of the damage to her body caused by the delay in receiving medical attention "is still to be determined."

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Lauren Hall, a second plaintiff, said she was 18 weeks pregnant when she learned her fetus suffered a conduction that prevented its skull from developing.

Despite the fetus having no chance of survival, Hall was forced to continue with the pregnancy despite risks to her health due to Texas' abortion ban.

Her doctor, she said, informed her that she could travel to another state to receive the medical procedure but the physician told Hall that she would neither make a referral nor send her records.

"We were completely on our own," Hall said. "Additionally, she told us to only tell people who were absolutely necessary and needing to know. She instructed us to say nothing to friends or coworkers, say nothing at the airport and nothing until the procedure was completed."

Hall eventually received an abortion at a clinic outside of Seattle, and now pregnant again, "we fear everything," she said, referring to herself and her husband.

"Providers are scared to treat cases like ours without guidelines from the state and more people will suffer and lose their lives if a change is not made," she said. "I love Texas, and it kills me that my own state does not seem to care if I live or die."

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Molly Duane, lead attorney on the case, told reporters that the remedy they seek is simply for the state to acknowledge that the plaintiffs in the case should have received abortion care, and that pregnant people who face similar pregnancy complications in the future will be allowed to receive the medical procedure in their home communities.

"To the extent that the Texas legislature or Texas politicians think that any of the situations of the plaintiffs in this case don't fall within the exception, they need to explain that to us," she said.

She added that lawsuit also accuses the state of violating the five women's Texas constitutional rights by denying them the healthcare they required.

"Roe may have been overturned, but people have basic human rights that were violated and that are being violated every single day in this state and around the country," she said.

Texas is only one of several Republican-led states to impose bans or restrictions on abortion following the overturning of Roe vs. Wade.

Vice President Kamala Harris said Tuesday the lawsuit the five women filed is proving true the fears they had back in 2021 when Abbott signed Texas Senate Bill 8 into law.

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"Many extremist 'so-called' leaders espouse 'freedom for fall,' while directly attacking the freedom to make one's own healthcare decisions," she said in a statement. "Like the overwhelming majority of Americans, the president and I believe women -- in consultation with their doctors -- should be in charge of their reproductive healthcare, not politicians."

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