Every Pro-Life law that Texas has passed over the years includes explicit language clarifying that intervention is allowed when the mother’s life or major bodily function is at stake. The same is true with the recent Texas Heartbeat Act (Senate Bill 8; 87R) and the Trigger Law (House Bill 1280; 87R), which together outlaw all elective abortion in the state of Texas except for these tragic cases.
But now, anti-Life activist groups are weaponizing the language meant to protect mothers. Of course, their goal is to get abortion back in full force. In order to do so, they intentionally and maliciously misrepresent the medical allowance in our law, blasting their lies all over the media. This seems to have left doctors afraid to intervene even to save a mother’s life.
Unfortunately, this is creating real consequences on the ground, and these consequences are at issue in Zurawski v. State of Texas, a lawsuit brought by the Center for Reproductive Rights on behalf of 13 women and two Texas doctors. These women believe they qualified for a medically necessary abortion, but were denied or never offered one, and the doctors claim they are confused or hindered from providing proper care due to the state’s Pro-Life laws.
Those who are bringing the lawsuit are seeking a temporary injunction from the judge to “clarify” the medical exemptions in our Pro-Life laws. In a hearing held over two days in mid-July, Judge Jessica Mangrum at the Travis County District Court heard the plaintiffs’ request for a temporary injunction and the State’s request to dismiss the case.
Should the temporary injunction be granted, Texas’ Pro-Life laws would be significantly altered – essentially rewriting the law so doctors themselves can determine what counts as a medical emergency, including when a preborn child is given a life-limiting diagnosis.
As Texas Right to Life and our Pro-Life friends have been saying since the laws first passed, our language is clear that procedures done to save a mother’s life are already not subject to the penalties of the law for performing an illegal abortion. Mothers do not have to be imminently dying in order to receive care. The fact that they sometimes are denied is not a shortcoming of the law, but a result of lies and deception.
The plaintiffs in this case generally belong to two categories. The first are those who had genuine medical emergencies, but their doctors wrongfully waited to intervene until they were on death’s door. These women claimed that their doctors were too scared to act until it was almost too late due to the state’s laws, even though the doctors knew for certain their condition would progress to critical.
The second category is women whose children were given a life-limiting diagnosis. Many of these children had anencephaly, a condition where the brain and skull do not properly form in the womb. Children with anencephaly will pass away in the womb, during birth, or shortly after birth. While these cases are undeniably tragic and the pregnancies can be high-risk, they do not necessarily fall into the same category as when the mother’s life is at risk.
These children and their families deserve compassion and love. But the plaintiffs are arguing that these cases are the same as the first category, due to the emotional distress that the mothers had to endure by carrying these children who they knew would not live long. They would like to see these cases, where the child is given a life-limiting diagnosis but is still alive, subject to abortion under the medical emergency definition of our law.
Dr. Ingrid Skop, a practicing obstetrician-gynecologist of 25 years, testified at the hearing of her firsthand experience that Texas law can be clearly applied as written. She pointed out that doctors in Texas have been practicing without confusion until now. They have been following the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (a federal law which requires abortions to be offered in cases when the mother’s life or “a major bodily function” are at risk) for the past 40 years and the state’s medical emergency laws for the past 100 years.
Dr. Skop also revealed that doctors who are confused about the law are only relying on false information being circulated by the media. “I think it is clear that the Texas law allows treatment of life-threatening conditions,” Dr. Skop told the court, “it is not the law’s fault.”
The state argued, rightly, that these doctors have not read the law, and are thus under-informed. Also, the regulatory bodies that typically offer guidance, such as the Texas Medical Board, have remained eerily silent on the issue. The language that the plaintiffs are requesting would have the effect of broadening the law rather than clarifying it, a role that is the proper jurisdiction of the Legislature, not the judiciary.
Unfortunately, the Austin district judge is expected to rule in favor of the plaintiffs within the next few weeks and temporarily enjoin the state’s Pro-Life laws defining medical emergency situations. We anticipate the Office of the Attorney General to immediately appeal to the Supreme Court of Texas where this suit will hopefully be resolved in favor of Life.
Join us in calling for the medical associations to provide guidance and clarification to our medical professionals so our state can keep protecting all preborn children while not needlessly putting their mothers’ lives at risk. The current definition of the law is not the problem, the implementation, or lack thereof, is.
Stay tuned for more updates as this case progresses.