As Published in The Dallas Morning News
Recently, the Center for Reproductive Rights, a New York-based abortion advocacy firm, filed a lawsuit asking a state court to clarify the scope of the exceptions in Texas abortion laws regarding pregnant women with certain rare but life-threatening medical conditions. The case, filed on behalf of five Texas women and two physicians, is Zurawski vs. Texas.
In our modern era, these types of life-threatening situations are rare. Our hearts go out to each woman mentioned in the brief who experienced the loss of her unborn child due to a fatal fetal diagnosis or an unsustainable pregnancy for medical reasons.
When we heard about Amanda Zurawski’s case specifically, my organization consulted with six well-informed doctors in this area of medicine. When Zurawski was in her 18th week, well before viability, she suffered from a rare but severe condition known as preterm premature rupture of membranes, or PPROM. In other words, her water broke. Because the unborn baby was so young, there was little chance for her baby to survive. Without intervention, Zurawski’s life was in danger from infection. All six doctors said the standard of care is to induce labor with the intent to save the mother’s life, knowing that, sadly, the unborn child would not survive, and to do so without waiting until the woman’s death is imminent or for the baby’s heart to stop beating. All confirmed this is permitted under Texas law.
Unfortunately, that is not what her physician did. Her doctor waited until Ms. Zurawski developed sepsis before providing the appropriate treatment. Tragically, she lost her baby, and she almost lost her life. But that had nothing to do with Texas law. It is a dangerous lie that lifesaving care is not permitted under Texas pro-life laws. The language of the life of the mother exception in Texas law is clear: no woman with a life-threatening pregnancy should be required to wait before receiving treatment from her physician.
Much misinformation and confusion have been widely perpetuated regarding the life of the mother exception within Texas pro-life laws. However, Texas’ laws are carefully crafted to allow doctors to promptly treat women with life-threatening conditions without the risk of criminal or civil liability. The exception language in our more recent laws is the same language put into law in 2013 to protect unborn babies from abortion beginning at 20 weeks. No physician has been prosecuted for performing abortions to save the mother’s life under that law.
In August 2022, the Human Life Protection Act went into effect, protecting unborn babies from abortion beginning at conception. That law allows a physician to perform an abortion when “in the exercise of reasonable medical judgment, the pregnant female . . . has a life-threatening physical condition aggravated by, caused by, or arising from a pregnancy that places the female at risk of death or poses a serious risk of substantial impairment of a major bodily function unless the abortion is performed or induced.” Nothing requires a woman’s death to be imminent or her unborn baby’s heart to stop beating.
Since the Human Life Protection Act went into effect, elective abortions have dropped from thousands per month to zero, according to the Texas Department of Health and Human Services Induced Termination of Pregnancy reports. At the same time, doctors have performed a relatively small number of abortions monthly for “emergency and health” reasons, without any negative consequences for doctors.
Unfortunately, misunderstanding among some well-intentioned but poorly informed Texas doctors is leading to unnecessary and dangerous delays, threatening women’s lives. We support clarification of the medical emergency exception language to address that confusion and misinformation. That needs to come in the same way doctors are educated about other legislation affecting their practice in Texas, such as from their hospitals and the state agency that regulates doctors. We hope that, with this clarification, women across Texas will receive the standard of care they need and deserve.
Amy O’Donnell is the communications director of Texas Alliance for Life. She wrote this for The Dallas Morning News.