5 women sue Texas over abortion bans, saying their lives were put at risk

The women said they were denied abortions due to the state's strict laws.

March 7, 2023, 2:56 PM

Five women are suing the state of Texas over its strict abortion laws, saying they were denied the procedure even though their lives were in danger.

The lawsuit -- filed in state court Monday by the Center for Reproductive Rights -- marks the first time that women, rather than doctors on behalf of their patients or advocacy groups, have taken legal action since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

According to the lawsuit, the women were "denied necessary and potentially life-saving obstetrical care because medical professionals throughout the state fear liability under Texas's abortion bans."

"It is now dangerous to be pregnant in Texas," Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said during a press conference outside the Texas Capitol. "Doctors and hospitals are turning patients away, even those in medical emergencies. Patients are being denied life-saving obstetrical care."

Texas does not allow abortions after six weeks of pregnancy except for "medical emergencies," which is not defined. The suit asks that physicians be allowed to determine what qualifies under the exception.

The five women -- Ashley Brandt, Lauren Hall, Lauren Miller, Anna Zargarian and Amanda Zurawski -- said they were all excited about their pregnancies but were denied care when their lives were in danger, the lawsuit states.

PHOTO: Lauren Miller, who had to travel to Colorado to have an abortion for one of her twins, at home in Dallas, March 5, 2023.
Lauren Miller, who had to travel to Colorado to have an abortion for one of her twins, at home in Dallas, March 5, 2023. Five women who say they were denied abortions despite grave risks to their lives or the lives of their fetuses sued the state of Texas on March 6.
Nitashia Johnson/The New York Times via Redux

Zurawski, 35, from Austin, was diagnosed with an "incomplete cervix" -- which occurs when cervical tissue weakens and prematurely dilates the cervix -- at 17 weeks and was told her baby would not survive, according to the lawsuit.

Under Texas's abortion law, doctors said there wasn't much they could do for Zurawski because cardiac activity still could be detected.

After she developed sepsis, Zurawski said she was induced so she could deliver the fetus. She developed sepsis again and had so much scar tissue from the infections that one of her fallopian tubes is permanently closed, the lawsuit states.

Hall, 28, from outside Dallas, was told her baby would not survive after a scan revealed the fetus had anencephaly, a condition in which a baby does not develop a skull and had a severely underdeveloped brain.

A maternal-fetal medicine specialist told her continuing the pregnancy could result in hemorrhage or pre-term birth but that she couldn't have an abortion due to Texas' laws. Hall was forced to travel to Seattle for the procedure.

Miller, 35, from Dallas, learned she was carrying twins but a scan at 12 weeks showed one of them had trisomy 18, which is a chromosomal condition that results in severe abnormalities and developmental delays.

According to the lawsuit, she traveled to Colorado to receive a selective fetal reduction, which aborted the fetus with the chromosomal condition. Miller continued her pregnancy with the other twin, who has shown no signs of abnormalities, and she is due the end of the month.

"It shouldn't be controversial for an individual to make health care decisions for themselves in consultation with their doctor, but you can’t get that in Texas anymore," she said during the press conference.

Brandt, 31, from Dallas, Texas, also learned she was pregnant in May 2022 with twins. A scan, however, revealed that one had a condition known as acrania, which is when the fetus does not develop a skull, the lawsuit states.

The condition progressed to exencephaly, in which brain tissue is freely floating in amniotic fluid. Continuing the pregnancy could have increased her risk of miscarriage or premature labor. She, too, traveled to Colorado after being unable to obtain an abortion, according to the lawsuit.

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The final plaintiff, Zargarian, 33, from Austin, was 19 weeks pregnant when she said she was diagnosed with preterm premature rupture of membranes, which occurs when the membranes break before a woman goes into labor.

PHOTO: Elizabeth Hernandez, a medical assistant at Women's Reproductive Clinic of New Mexico in Santa Teresa, N.M., prepares mifepristone, the first medication in a medical abortion for a patient, Jan. 13, 2023.
Elizabeth Hernandez, a medical assistant at Women's Reproductive Clinic of New Mexico in Santa Teresa, N.M., prepares mifepristone, the first medication in a medical abortion for a patient, Jan. 13, 2023. The abortion clinic, less than a mile from Texas, where abortion is now illegal, provides medical abortions for women who are flying and driving hundreds of miles across Texas.
Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters

She was at high risk of sepsis or hemorrhaging if she continued the pregnancy but could not obtain an abortion. Zargarian also went to Colorado to obtain an abortion, legal filings show.

"You never know when you or someone you know will need [an abortion]," Zargarian said during the press conference.

In September 2021, the state passed the so-called Texas Heartbeat Act -- better known as SB 8 -- which bans abortions after fetal cardiac activity can be detected, which typically occurs around six weeks, before most women know they're pregnant.

The law does not include exceptions for rape or incest or if the fetus has a fatal or untreatable condition. The only exception is for "medical emergencies," but it is undefined, making it unclear what qualifies.

SB 8 also allows private citizens to sue anyone who "aids or abets" an abortion.

Additionally, after Roe v. Wade was overturned by the Supreme Court, Texas passed a trigger law making abortion a second-degree felony "for a person who knowingly performs, induces, or attempts an abortion."

If the pregnancy is successfully aborted, the offense becomes a first-degree felony, according to the law.

According to the Texas Penal Code, the punishment for a first-degree penalty could be up to life in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. The penalty for a second-degree felony is up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

In a statement, Vice President Kamala Harris expressed support fro the lawsuit.

"The lawsuit includes devastating, first-hand accounts of women's lives almost lost after they were denied the health care they needed, because of extreme efforts by Republican officials to control women's bodies," she said.

The statement continued, "Like the overwhelming majority of Americans, the President and I believe women -- in consultation with their doctors -- should be in charge of their reproductive health care, not politicians."

ABC News' Nadine El-Bawab contributed to this report.

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