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Seven North Texas Women Are at the Center of the First Major Challenge To Texas’ Abortion Laws

Their lawsuit against the state asks the court to weigh in on what counts as medically necessary. Most of the plaintiffs were forced to travel out of state to abort pregnancies that endangered their lives.
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Anna Zargarian, Amanda Zurawski and Lauren Hall listen to fellow plaintiff Lauren Miller share her story in front of the Texas State Capitol in Austin, March 7, 2023, as the Center for Reproductive Rights and the plaintiffs announced their lawsuit, which asks for clarity in Texas law as to when abortions can be provided. Sara Diggins-USA TODAY NETWORK

Testimony and arguments are expected to begin Wednesday morning in Austin for a lawsuit filed by 13 women who say that Texas’ abortion laws made it impossible for them to receive proper care while pregnant. Seven of the women are from North Texas.

The suit, which was filed against the state in March, will be argued by attorneys with the Center for Reproductive Health at the Travis County Civil & Family Courts Facility. It seeks to clarify the state’s “medical emergency” exception after each of the plaintiffs claimed they were denied abortions when they faced life-threatening pregnancy complications because of a law passed by the Texas Legislature.

“The experiences of the women—all of whom had wanted pregnancies—clearly demonstrate that the state’s abortion bans are endangering the health, fertility and lives of patients facing severe pregnancy complications,” Molly Duane, senior staff attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement. “The court must act to immediately block these dangerous laws and prevent further irreparable harm to even more Texans.” 

The suit is the first brought on behalf of women denied abortions after the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision last summer, which overturned Roe v. Wade. The lawsuit is asking the court to more plainly determine what constitutes a medical necessity when it comes to abortion, so that doctors feel safe to continue providing the care they did prior to the Supreme Court ruling.

“We are seeking a ruling from the court that clearly permits doctors to provide a pregnant patient with abortion care when in the doctor’s good faith judgment, and in consultation with the patient, the doctor determines that the patient has a medical condition that poses a risk to their life or health.” Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement in March. “No one should be forced to wait until they are at death’s door to receive healthcare.”

The seven women from North Texas include Lauren Miller, Lauren Hall, Ashley Brandt, Dr. Austin Dennard, Kylie Beaton, Jessica Bernardo, and Kiersten Hogan. All 13 plaintiffs describe dire complications that led them to seek abortions, which required most of them to travel out of state to receive the care their doctors refused to provide.

Brandt and Dennard, who both live in Dallas, are expected to testify in this week’s hearing, along with three other plaintiffs and two expert witnesses. 

“Abortion bans are hindering or delaying necessary obstetrical care,” the suit says. “And, contrary to their stated purpose of furthering life, the bans are exposing pregnant people to risks of death, injury, and illness, including loss of fertility—making it less likely that every family who wants to bring children into the world will be able to do so and survive the experience. Medical professionals are now telling their patients that if they want to become pregnant, they should leave Texas.”

The Center’s suit named five women and two obstetricians. In May, its lawyers filed an amended complaint with eight new plaintiffs.

The Texas Legislature passed a trigger law in 2021 that would go into effect in the event the Supreme Court overturned Roe. The law makes performing an abortion a felony, with the only exceptions being for a life-threatening physical condition or “serious risk of substantial impairment of a major bodily function.”

Doctors who violate those laws face fines of at least $100,000, up to 99 years in prison, and could see their medical license revoked. 

Senate Bill 8, also passed in 2021, banned abortion after six weeks, and allows private citizens to file civil lawsuits against anyone they believe may be involved in providing abortions. 

Miller, who lives in Dallas, was hospitalized at eight weeks because of hyperemesis gravidarum, a severe form of morning sickness that often leads to dehydration. Pregnant with twins, she learned at 12 weeks—far beyond the six week time limit imposed by the state—that one of her children had trisomy 18, a rare but serious genetic condition, and was unlikely to survive birth. Concerned about the health of her second fetus, she sought a fetal reduction abortion procedure but her doctors refused, citing the state ban. 

“I’ll never forget when one specialist tore off his gloves in frustration and threw them at the trash,” Miller said at a press conference in March. “‘I can’t help you anymore,’ he said. ‘You need to leave the state.’”

Miller said they spoke to several doctors and genetic counselors and each of them said the same thing.

“Baby B will die. It’s just a matter of how soon,” she said. “And every day that Baby B continued to develop, he put his twin and myself at higher risk — something that I faced when days later, I had to go to the ER for a second time.”

She ultimately went to Colorado for the procedure, and expects to give birth this month, the Center said.

Hall’s baby was diagnosed with anencephaly (a condition where the fetus doesn’t develop a skull) when she was 18 weeks pregnant. Knowing that the fetus had no chance of survival and that the pregnancy would pose a risk of hemorrhage to her, the doctor still refused to perform an abortion. She sought care in Seattle, but said in March her new pregnancy is fraught with anxiety because of her experience.

“Now that we are expecting again—a baby boy this time—we fear everything,” she said. “While I was calm during my previous pregnancy, I now compulsively look up every ache and pain, terrified that I will find myself in this unbearable situation again. 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.

“I love Texas, and it kills me that my own state does not seem to care if I live or die.”

It seems at least one person behind SB 8 says its intent was not to prevent women like Miller and Hall from receiving an abortion. In an interview with NPR this spring, Jonathan Mitchell, a lawyer who helped craft the legislation, said it was “never intended to restrict access to medically-necessary abortions,” Mitchell said. 

“The statute was written to draw a clear distinction between abortions that are medically necessary and abortions that are purely elective,” he said. “Only the purely elective abortions are unlawful under SB 8.”


Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson

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Bethany Erickson is the senior digital editor for D Magazine. She's written about real estate, education policy, the stock market, and crime throughout her career, and sometimes all at the same time. She hates lima beans and 5 a.m. and takes SAT practice tests for fun.

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