8 women join suit over Texas' abortion bans, claim their lives were put in danger

ByNadine El-Bawab ABCNews logo
Monday, May 22, 2023

The Center for Reproductive Rights is expected to add eight more women to a lawsuit it filed against Texas over its abortion ban, claiming their lives were put at risk due to the law. This brings the total number of plaintiffs to 15.

The suit alleged that Texas' abortion bans have denied the plaintiffs and countless other pregnant people necessary and potentially life-saving medical care because physicians in the state fear liability, according to a draft of the complaint shared with ABC News.

Texas has several abortion laws in place, prohibiting all abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, except in medical emergencies, which the laws do not define. One of the bans -- called SB 8 -- prohibits abortions after cardiac activity is detected, which kept several plaintiffs from accessing care despite their pregnancies being nonviable, according to a draft of the suit.

Under Texas' bans, it is a second-degree felony to perform or attempt an abortion, punishable byup to life in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. The law also allows private citizens to sue anyone who "aids or abets" an abortion.

The lawsuit is asking a judge to temporarily and permanently suspend the Texas law due to the uncertainty surrounding the meaning of the exception in the state's abortion bans. The suit also alleged that the abortion bans have caused and threaten to cause irreparable injury to the patient plaintiffs and the patients of physician plaintiffs filing the suit.

The suit is the first to be filed by women impacted by the abortion bans since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year, ending federal protections for abortion rights.

The lawsuit is filed against the state of Texas, Attorney General Ken Paxton and the Texas Medical Board. A date has not yet been set for a hearing, according to Molly Duane, a lead attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights.

"This is the Texas that politicians have created, and Texas officials do nothing while people suffer. But, Texans will have their voices heard," Duane said at a press conference Monday.

"This is a public health crisis -- one that is pervasive, ongoing and government-inflicted. More stories of similar pregnant people both in Texas and around the country pile up every day," Duane said.

Along with the women who filed the suit after they were unable to access abortion care in the state, two Texas OB-GYNs -- Dr. Damla Karsan and Dr. Judy Levison -- are also plaintiffs who alleged the bans have had a devastating impact on their practice and that of their colleagues, who fear prosecutors and politicians will target them personally and threaten state funding of hospitals if they provide abortion care to pregnant people with emergency medical conditions, according to a draft of the suit.

Levison said she partially retired from her practice of medicine in July 2022 in part because Roe was overturned and she felt she could no longer practice in the way she was trained and as is consistent with her ethical obligations as a physician, according to a draft of the suit.

The lawsuit alleged that despite their being an exception in the bans to save the life of a pregnant woman, inconsistencies in the language of these provisions, the use of non-medical terminology and sloppy legislative drafting have resulted in understandable confusion throughout the medical profession regarding the scope of the exception.

Women added to the lawsuit

Two plaintiffs, Kiersten Hogan and Elizabeth Weller, had their water break prematurely, but were both told to wait until they were sick enough to receive abortion care, according to a draft of the suit.

Hogan was allegedly told that if she tried to leave the hospital to seek care elsewhere she could be arrested for trying to kill her baby, according to a draft of the suit. She was kept in the hospital until she went into labor four days later in the hospital bathroom and delivered her son stillborn.

"I was told that if I tried to discharge myself or seek care elsewhere, that I could be arrested for trying to kill my child. I wanted this baby, so of course I stayed," Hogan said at a press conference.

"When I needed to use the bathroom, I was accompanied and watched and made sure that I didn't push," Hogan said.

Hogan called the experience the most traumatic and heartbreaking experience of her life.

"At every turn, staff reminded me how alone I was and how unmarried I was. I was made to feel less than human," Hogan said.

Weller had to wait until she developed an infection before a hospital approved her abortion despite her losing almost all her amniotic fluid, which a pregnancy is not viable without, according to a draft of the suit.

"My doctor told me that due to a new Texas law, my request for an abortion had been denied. Now, I was left with one of two options, each cruel and inhumane. I could either stay in a hospital to wait for my baby to die, at which point I could get the abortion I needed to protect my health, or I could go home and wait for either my daughter's death or for an infection to develop that might cause my own demise," Weller said at a press conference Monday.

"My baby would not survive and my life didn't matter. And there was nothing I could do about it," Weller said.

Kylie Beaton and Samantha Casiano said they were both forced to carry nonviable pregnancies to term.

Beaton had an emergency c-section to deliver and after a few days in the hospital took her son home, she told ABC News. He died hours later, her husband told ABC News. She will have to wait between 16 to 18 months before she could try to get pregnant again, her physicians have told her.

According to the draft of the suit, Beaton and her husband watched their son grow cold in their arms until he died. He could not sit upright or it would put too much pressure on his head, which was abnormally large. When she delivered, the circumference of her baby's head was measuring at 49 cm, the average head circumference for a newborn is 35 cm, according to a draft of the suit.

Casiano was unable to afford to travel out of state for abortion care, so she had to continue her pregnancy, according to a draft of the suit. She went into labor early and after delivering, her daughter only lived for four hours, according to a draft of the suit. She could only afford a gravestone after a story was written about her and members of the public contributed to her fundraising website, according to a draft of the suit.

Dr. Austin Dennard, an OB who treats Lauren Miller, is one of the other plaintiffs who had to travel out of state to receive abortion care for a nonviable pregnancy. She is now pregnant again and fears for her safety as a pregnant woman in Texas, according to a draft of the suit.

Dennard, Jessica Bernardo, Taylor Edwards and Lauren Van Vleet's fetuses received fatal diagnoses and they had to travel out of state for abortion care, even while risks to their own health increased, according to a draft of the suit.

Bernardo and her husband had decided to continue her pregnancy after finding out their baby may have Down syndrome, deciding they would love her either way. But, they later found out the baby also had a fatal condition called hydrops that could also pose a threat to Bernardo's life if she develops mirror syndrome. She could experience severe fluid retention that could be fatal to her and the fetus, according to a draft of the suit.

"Under these laws, [doctors] couldn't speak openly, or even tell us my options. I remember saying to my doctor, 'we have a place in Colorado. Should I go there?' And as if the secret code she said 'yes, I think you should go to Colorado'," Bernardo said at a press conference Monday.

"Speaking up now, and joining this case, because I never want another human being to go through what I another Texans have been through. This has to be stopped. My trusted OB-GYN and general practitioner felt so helpless, that all they could offer me was a hug as I sobbed into their shoulders. The State of Texas owes them and us so much more," Bernardo said.

She sought care at a clinic in Seattle, booking expensive flights and a hotel room. At the clinic she was told she was their third patient from Texas that week alone, according to a draft of the suit.

Previous plaintiffs

Five of the plaintiffs were a part of the original lawsuit that was filed in early March.

Amanda Zurawski's water broke and she said she was forced to wait until she was septic to receive abortion care, causing one of her fallopian tubes to be permanently closed.

Lauren Miller said she had to travel out of state to save her life and the life of one of her unborn twins after she learned that the other twin was not viable.

Lauren Hall's fetus was diagnosed with a fatal condition and she had to travel to Seattle for abortion care. Hall is now pregnant again and fears that the state is not safe for her and her family, according to a draft of the suit.

Anna Zargarian had to travel across multiple states to receive abortion care after her water broke, risking that she could go into labor or septic shock on the journey, according to a draft of the suit.

Ashley Brandt had to travel out of state for an abortion to save the life of one of her twins. Her Texas physician feared documenting the abortion and listed her condition as vanishing twin syndrome, according to a draft of the suit.

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