Texas top court to hear arguments over abortions in medical emergencies

By Brendan Pierson

(Reuters) – A group of patients and doctors will urge Texas’ highest court on Tuesday to stop the state from enforcing its near-total abortion ban for women with medical conditions that threaten their health, saying it puts lives at risk.

A lower court judge had blocked enforcement of the ban in certain situations on Aug. 4, but the order has been on hold while the state appeals to the Texas Supreme Court. Oral arguments in the case are set for 10 a.m. (1600 GMT) in Austin.

Judge Jessica Mangrum of the Travis County, Texas District Court had ruled that the state could not prosecute doctors for performing abortions under a range of circumstances, including when a pregnancy poses a health risk, exacerbates a health condition or when the fetus is not likely to survive after birth.

The state has argued in court papers that the plaintiffs have not shown that they will be harmed in the future by the abortion ban, which includes an exception to save the mother’s life.

“All we are asking for is common-sense guidance that will allow doctors to use their good faith judgment without fearing loss of their license and life in prison,” Molly Duane of the Center for Reproductive Rights, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said in a statement.

The lawsuit, filed in March by five women and two doctors, sought a court order ensuring that doctors cannot be prosecuted for providing abortions if in their good faith judgment the procedure is necessary to treat emergencies that threaten a patient’s life or health. An additional 15 women later joined the case.

They said the ban’s lack of clarity about under what circumstances abortion is allowable was leading doctors to refuse to perform abortions even when exceptions should apply, for fear of losing their licenses and facing up to 99 years in prison.

One of the plaintiffs, Amanda Zurawski, said she was hospitalized in Texas with a premature rupture of membranes at 18 weeks of pregnancy, meaning her fetus could not be saved. She was told she could not have an abortion until fetal cardiac activity stopped or her condition became life-threatening.

Zurawski said she developed sepsis within days, which required intensive care and allowed the hospital to induce labor.

Other plaintiffs said they were forced to travel out of state for medically necessary abortions.

(Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York, Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Bill Berkrot)