Texas abortion ban too restrictive for women with pregnancy complications, judge rules

The ruling is the first to undercut Texas’ law since it took effect in 2022 and delivers a major victory to abortion rights supporters, who see the case as a potential blueprint to weaken restrictions elsewhere.

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Center for Reproductive Rights attorney Molly Duane speaks during a press conference outside the Travis County Courthouse in Austin, Texas on July 20, 2023.

Center for Reproductive Rights attorney Molly Duane speaks during a press conference outside the Travis County Courthouse in Austin, Texas in July. The center filed a lawsuit on behalf of 13 Texas women denied abortions despite serious pregnancy complications.

Suzanne Cordeiro/AFP via Getty Images

AUSTIN, Texas — A Texas judge ruled Friday the state’s abortion ban has proven too restrictive for women with serious pregnancy complications and must allow exceptions without doctors fearing the threat of criminal charges.

The ruling is the first to undercut Texas’ law since it took effect in 2022 and delivers a major victory to abortion rights supporters, who see the case as a potential blueprint to weaken restrictions elsewhere that Republican-led states have rushed to implement.

“For the first time in a long time, I cried for joy when I heard the news,” lead plaintiff Amanda Zurawski said in a statement. “This is exactly why we did this. This is why we put ourselves through the pain and the trauma over and over again to share our experiences and the harms caused by these awful laws.”

The challenge is believed to be the first in the U.S. brought by women who have been denied abortions since the Supreme Court last year overturned Roe v. Wade, which for nearly 50 years had affirmed the constitutional right to an abortion.

The state is expected to seek a swift appeal and has argued that Texas’ ban already allows exceptions, calling doctors’ fears of prosecution unfounded.

“Today’s ruling should prevent other Texans from suffering the unthinkable trauma our plaintiffs endured,” said Nancy Northup, President and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which helped bring the lawsuit. “It would be unconscionable for the State of Texas to appeal this ruling.”

The immediate impact of State District Judge Jessica Mangrum’s decision was unclear in Texas, where all abortion clinics have shuttered in the past year. During two days of emotional testimony in an Austin courtroom, women gave wrenching accounts of learning their babies would not survive birth and being unable to travel long distances to states where abortion is still legal.

The challenge, filed in March, does not seek to repeal Texas’ abortion ban, but instead aims to force more clarity on when exceptions are allowed under the law, which is one of the most restrictive in the U.S.

Under the law in Texas, doctors who perform abortions risk life in prison and fines of up to $100,000. Opponents say that has left some women with providers who are unwilling to even discuss terminating a pregnancy.

The majority of U.S. adults, including those living in states with the strictest limits on abortion, want it to be legal at least through the initial stages of pregnancy, according to a poll released in late June by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

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