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Amanda Zurawski endured 18 months of “exhausting” infertility treatment before she and her husband were able to conceive their daughter, Willow. She was in the middle of her second trimester, putting the finishing touches on the guest list for her baby shower, when she started experiencing what she thought at the time were “curious” symptoms. Her cervix had dilated prematurely and it wasn’t long before her water broke. Without amniotic fluid to protect her, Zurawski and her husband were informed that Willow would not survive.
“I asked what could be done to ensure the respectful passage of our baby and what could protect me from a deadly infection now that my body was unprotected and vulnerable,” Zurawski recalled Tuesday, speaking to reporters at a news conference outside Texas State Capitol Building. “They explained there was nothing they could do.”
With Willow’s heart still beating, the Zurawskis were told they had to wait until she could receive treatment. Three days later, she was checked into intensive care with sepsis, an infection that almost killed her.
Zurawski is the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit filed Monday by five Texas women who were unable to obtain an abortion despite life-threatening medical complications. Her fellow plaintiffs — whom Zurawski called “unwitting members of the most horrible club on the planet” — gathered together Tuesday to share their experiences and urge members of the Texas Legislature to add medical exemptions to the country’s multiple overlapping abortion bans. the state.
The case marks the first time pregnant women themselves have challenged the state’s three abortion bans: a criminal ban that predates Roe v. Wadetrigger ban passed pending Rowe also repealed Senate Bill 8, effectively banning abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy. All three bans have exceptions for medical “emergencies,” but advocates say they are vague and have led to “widespread confusion” about who and what qualifies.
What happened to each of them sounds like, as Zurawski put it, “a sick and twisted plot of a dystopian novel – but it’s not.”
Lauren Hall was 18 weeks pregnant with a daughter she planned to name Amelia when she learned the baby had anencephaly, a fatal condition that meant she had no developed skull and very little brain matter. After informing her of the diagnosis (their baby would not survive), Hall recalls how the doctor “quietly and carefully explained to us that if we chose to terminate, we would have to leave” Texas. Because of state law, the doctor would not make a referral or even send her medical records to her abortion provider.
“We were completely alone,” Hall recalls. Before she left, Hall said the doctor warned her and her husband to “only tell people who are absolutely necessary and need to know; she instructs us not to say anything to friends or colleagues; don’t say anything at the airport and nothing until the procedure is over.
The doctor’s fears were well-founded: in addition to stiff penalties — up to 99 years in prison, a $100,000 fine — for providing abortion care, health care providers (or anyone for that matter: friends, family members, Uber drivers, TSA agents) could open themselves up to lawsuits if they help a Texan get an abortion.
Another plaintiff, Lauren Miller, was 12 weeks old when she learned that one of the twins she was carrying had complications: trisomy-18, a condition that limited his growth, and two “large masses of fluid” where his brain should have been . Multiple doctors confirmed that not only would the baby not survive, but if she continued to carry it, it would pose a health risk to her and the other twin.
Miller travels to Colorado for elective abortion; she is due to give birth to the surviving twin this month. “I was lucky,” she said. “I had connections with doctors out of state. I had a family to look after my son. We had the time and money to make the trip. But privilege levels should never determine which Texans can’t access the health care they need.
Anna Zargarian, another plaintiff, was 19 weeks pregnant when her water broke prematurely. “My heart broke into a million pieces. I didn’t even know such pain could exist,” she said. Although she had to grieve, Zargarian was left scrambling to find an out-of-state clinic that would accept her. Like Miller, she sought care in Colorado. Boarding the flight, she says, “was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. It was like Russian roulette knowing I was at risk of infection.
“Texas politicians are banning health care they don’t understand,” Miller said Tuesday. “It should not be controversial for an individual to make their own health care decisions in consultation with their physician.”
The lawsuit the women filed has a very modest goal: All they want is for the state of Texas to clarify, using medical terminology, what constitutes an “emergency” under the law. Or, as Molly Duane, senior staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said Tuesday: “We want the state of Texas to recognize that the women behind me should have received timely abortion care and that women and pregnant people all the time Texans who face similar situations — similar pregnancy complications in the future — should be allowed to obtain abortion care in their communities.”
Despite their harrowing personal experiences, the plaintiffs hope state lawmakers will choose to act before being forced by a judge.
Now Hall is pregnant again – this time with a boy – and she says she lives in constant fear. “I was calm during my previous pregnancy; now I compulsively review every ache and pain, terrified that I will ever find myself in this unbearable situation again.
“I love Texas,” she told reporters outside the Capitol building. “And it kills me that my own country doesn’t seem to care if I live or die.”