Social Issues

Texas Supreme Court to decide whether to protect doctors who perform emergency abortions

Washington, Nov 28 (EFE).- The Texas Supreme Court will have to decide in the next few weeks whether to uphold a law in favor of doctors and women who sued the state because they could not perform or receive abortions for health reasons due to the current restrictions.

On Tuesday, the judges heard arguments from lawyers and the Texas Attorney General’s Office, which is appealing a lower court ruling.

At the hearing, the full panel of Texas Supreme Court justices considered whether to uphold the injunction, which would give doctors more discretion to perform abortions after determining a woman’s health is endangered or a fetus has a fatal condition.

It would not overturn the law, but would make more people eligible for exceptions to Texas’ abortion ban.

The suit, brought by the Center for Reproductive Rights, was filed by 22 plaintiffs, including 20 patients and two doctors, who contend that the medical exceptions in Texas’s abortion ban are too narrow to protect patients with complicated pregnancies.

On Aug. 4, 2023, Texas District Judge Jessica Mangrum ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, confirming that the women should have received abortion services.

She also issued a court order blocking Texas’ abortion bans for pregnant women with dangerous pregnancy complications, clarifying that doctors can use their own medical judgment to determine when to provide abortion care in these situations.

But the state of Texas immediately appealed the ruling, preventing it from taking effect, and now the Texas Supreme Court must decide whether to uphold it.

Molly Duane, an attorney with the Center for Reproductive Rights, who originally helped file the lawsuit, attended the hearing and said that over the past two years, abortion bans in the state after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade have been disastrous for patients and doctors.

“They subject doctors like my clients to the most extreme penalties imaginable: life in prison and loss of their medical licenses. And while there is technically a medical exception, no one knows what it means, and the state won’t tell us,” she explained.

The lawsuit specifically asks the state Supreme Court to define what circumstances qualify as a “medical emergency,” while asking the court to allow doctors to use their own professional judgment without fear of punishment.

In early 2023, several women sued the state of Texas because they were denied access to abortions even though their fetuses were not viable, and some even suffered serious health consequences because doctors decided to wait until the fetus’ heart stopped beating, as required by law.

“Just because Roe v. Wade is no longer the law of the land does not mean that women and pregnant people are without constitutional and basic human rights,” says Molly Duane, senior staff attorney at the Center.

“We are talking about people who are in medical emergencies, who need urgent medical care, and whose doctors are too afraid to provide that care because of the state’s laws and the state’s failure to clarify what its law means.”

As part of this appeal to the Supreme Court, an amicus curiae brief was filed on Nov. 20 on behalf of 40 leading Texas businesses and individuals in support of the plaintiffs’ position.

The brief argues that the uncertainty surrounding Texas’ abortion bans is having a negative impact on the state’s economy, with an estimated $14.5 billion in lost revenue each year.

“We know that people are leaving Texas because they feel it is not safe to continue a pregnancy in the state. Doctors are leaving Texas and people are turning down job offers because they don’t want to move here,” Sarah Cummings, one of the attorneys, told EFE.

“We also know that people are choosing not to bring their businesses to Texas. There’s an example in our brief of a woman living in Massachusetts who was 19 weeks pregnant and canceled a business trip to Texas because she was afraid that if she was here and needed emergency care, she wouldn’t be able to get it even on a short business trip,” she added.

Texas’ five-week abortion ban went into effect in September 2021, a few months after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, which had protected the right to abortion at the federal level for five decades.

Texas is one of the states with the most restrictive laws regarding voluntary abortion, the only justifiable reason being after five weeks when the mother’s life is at risk.

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