Two years ago, Texas Republicans passed a six-week abortion ban that has since had a major impact on reproductive rights in the state. Last week, five women who were denied abortions despite the grave risks to their lives or their fetuses sued the State of Texas. This marks the first time that pregnant women themselves have taken legal action against the bans that have shut down access to abortion across the country since the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. The lawsuit documents the catastrophic harms to women since the court’s decision in June that eliminated the constitutional right to abortion after five decades.
It is worth noting that the women who filed this case actually wanted to be pregnant until they learned about their tragic circumstances, including two fetuses that had no skulls. The legal filing is not only dry and technical but also a qualitatively different kind of document. The suit alleges that not only the plaintiffs but countless other pregnant people have been denied necessary and potentially life-saving obstetrical care because medical professionals throughout the state fear liability under Texas’s abortion bans.
Under the GOP-imposed law, Texas physicians can terminate pregnancies after six weeks if there is substantial harm to pregnant women. However, since no one seems to know exactly what that means, doctors have refused to treat many patients in need of reproductive care, fearing enormous financial penalties and possible prison sentences. Some Texas physicians have been afraid to even mention the possibility of abortion or to forward medical records to another provider.
The litigation asks the courts to help establish clear boundaries that Republican policymakers failed to create. In a separate lawsuit related to abortion in the state, a Texas man is suing three women under the wrongful death statute, alleging that they assisted his ex-wife in terminating her pregnancy. This is the first such case brought since the state’s near-total ban on abortion last summer. The man who filed the case is seeking more than $1 million in damages. The ban has effectively created a vigilante system, where anyone who learns that a Texan had an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy could file a lawsuit against not only the physician who performed the procedure but also the nurse who was in the room, the friend who drove the woman to the health clinic, and the family member who gave the woman some money to help pay for the trip.