Texas judge temporarily lifts abortion ban for medical emergencies

The case, which was filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights, argues that the way medical exceptions are defined in Texas’ laws is confusing, stoking fear among doctors and causing a “health crisis.”

August 05, 2023 11:24 pm | Updated 11:24 pm IST - Washington

Amanda Zurawski (C) speaks during a press conference outside the Travis County Courthouse on July 19, 2023 in Austin, Texas.

Amanda Zurawski (C) speaks during a press conference outside the Travis County Courthouse on July 19, 2023 in Austin, Texas. | Photo Credit: AFP

A court in Texas on Friday issued a temporary order siding with a group of women and doctors who brought a lawsuit challenging the state's abortion bans.

The case, which was filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights, argues that the way medical exceptions are defined in Texas' laws is confusing, stoking fear among doctors and causing a "health crisis."

In her written judgment, Judge Jessica Mangrum wrote she agreed the women were "delayed or denied access to abortion care because of the widespread uncertainty regarding physicians' level of discretion under the medical exception to Texas's abortion bans."

She ordered that physicians cannot be prosecuted for exercising their "good faith judgment."

Instead, doctors should be allowed to determine what they felt constituted medical emergencies that would risk a woman's "life and/or health (including their fertility)," she said.

The temporary injunction is intended to last until the lawsuit is decided on its merits in a trial slated to begin next March.

But under Texas law, a ruling is automatically stayed as soon as it is appealed, meaning Friday's injunction is likely to be blocked once the state appeals.

The court in Austin heard harrowing testimony from the plaintiffs last month.

Amanda Zurawski, after whom the case is named, said she was denied an abortion despite her water breaking very early in her pregnancy, meaning a miscarriage was inevitable.

Zurawski said her doctor told her that she "couldn't intervene, because the baby's heart was still beating and inducing labor would have been considered an illegal abortion."

Zurawski went into life-threatening septic shock and the fetus was stillborn.

The suit is the first brought on behalf of women denied abortions since the US Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to the procedure just over a year ago.

Texas physicians found guilty of providing abortions face up to 99 years in prison, fines of up to $100,000 and the revocation of their medical license.

A state "trigger" ban went into effect when Roe v. Wade was overturned in June 2022, prohibiting abortions even in cases of rape or incest. Texas also has a law that allows private citizens to sue anyone who performs or aids an abortion.

The lawsuit asks the court to create a binding interpretation of the "medical emergency" exception in the law, and argues physicians should be allowed to exercise "good faith" judgments on the qualifying conditions for an abortion, rather than leaving this to state lawmakers.

The Texas attorney general's office, on the other hand, says the measures sought by the complaint would effectively nullify its bans.

The medical exception proposed by the plaintiffs "would, by design, swallow the rule," its lawyers argued in their written response. "It would, for example, permit abortions for pregnant females with medical conditions ranging from a headache to feelings of depression."

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