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Texas Supreme Court Will Hear First Major Challenge to State’s Abortion Law Tuesday

At least eight North Texans are among the 20 people asking the court to better explain what constitutes a medically-necessary abortion in a post-Roe world.
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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

The state Supreme Court will hear a lawsuit challenging Texas’ exception permitting abortions when a patient’s life is in danger Tuesday morning.

The suit alleges the state’s exceptions are so narrow that it is dangerous and harmful to people experiencing complicated pregnancies. It is the first suit brought on behalf of women who were denied abortions after the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision last year, which overturned Roe v. Wade. It asks the court to more clearly outline what is medically necessary when it comes to abortion.

In 2021, the state legislature passed a trigger law that went into effect when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. The law made performing an abortion a felony, with the only exception being for a life-threatening condition or  “serious risk of substantial impairment of a major bodily function.” Doctors violating that law can face fines of at least $100,000, up to 99 years in prison, and could also lose their medical license.

The lawsuit was first filed in March on behalf of five women and two doctors but was amended in July to include eight more women, and again in November to add seven more women, bringing the total to 20. All plaintiffs say when they experienced life-threatening medical issues during their pregnancies, they were denied abortions. Most of the women describe dire complications that led them to seek an abortion—and many say they had to endure harrowing travel out of state to receive that care.

The 20 women who have joined the suit include several from North Texas: Lauren Miller, Lauren Hall, Ashley Brandt, Dr. Austin Dennard, Kylie Beaton, Jessica Bernardo, Kiersten Hogan, and Kristen Anaya. 

In a July hearing in Travis County, District Court Judge Jessica Mangrum ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, temporarily lifting the ban on medically necessary abortions. The attorney general’s office immediately appealed, blocking Mangrum’s ruling and placing the decision in the hands of a state Supreme Court entirely of Republican justices.

The Texas Attorney General’s office argues Texas law presumes that the legislature “means what it says….and says what it means.

“When it comes to the medical-emergency exceptions to Texas’s abortion prohibitions, Plaintiffs would prefer that the Legislature said something else,” the AG’s office said in documents filed with the state Supreme Court. “So they sued, arguing that their preferred language defining of a medical emergency is constitutionally required.”

Center for Reproductive Rights CEO Nancy Northrup pushed back on that premise in March. The Center’s attorneys are representing the women in the suit.

“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,” she said. “No one should be forced to wait until they are at death’s door to receive healthcare.”

Oral arguments will begin at 9 a.m. Tuesday.

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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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