Five women who say they were denied abortions despite grave risks to their lives or their fetuses sued the state of Texas on Monday, apparently 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 women — two visibly pregnant — plan to tell their stories on the steps of the Texas Capitol on Tuesday. Their often harrowing experiences will put faces to what their 91-page complaint calls “catastrophic harms” to women since the court’s decision in June, which eliminated the constitutional right to abortion after five decades.
Their accounts may resonate with public opinion, which generally supports legalised abortion and does so overwhelmingly when a pregnancy endangers the woman’s life. The lawsuit, backed by the Center for Reproductive Rights, comes as the country grapples with the fallout from the overturning of Roe, with abortion banned in at least 13 states.
Texas, like most states with bans, allows exceptions when a physician determines there is risk of “substantial” harm to the mother, or in cases of rape or incest, or if the fetus has a fatal diagnosis. Yet the potential for prison sentences of up to 99 years, $100,000 fines and the loss of medical licences has scared doctors into not providing abortions even in cases where the law would seem to allow them.
The suit asks the court to affirm that physicians can make exceptions, and to clarify under what conditions. But its greater power may be in appealing to public opinion on abortion.
The women who are bringing the suit contradict stereotypes about who receives abortions and why. Married, and some with children already, the women rejoiced at their pregnancies, only to discover that their foetuses had no chance of survival.
Though they faced the risk of haemorrhage or life-threatening infection from carrying those foetuses, the women were told they could not have abortions, the suit says.
New York Times News Service