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Big Abortion-Rights Victory in Ruling Over Texas Ban

Injunction calls to allow for exceptions for serious pregnancy complications, though appeal blocks it
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Aug 5, 2023 9:00 AM CDT
Judge Rules Texas Abortion Ban Is Too Restrictive
Abortion rights demonstrators attend a rally at the Texas state Capitol in Austin, Texas, on May 14, 2022.   (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

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 was the first to undercut Texas' law, one of the most restrictive in the US, 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. However, the injunction was immediately blocked by an appeal to the Texas Supreme Court, the state attorney general's office said, per the AP. "The trial court's injunction is ineffective, and the status quo remains in effect," spokesperson Paige Willey said in an email.

State District Judge Jessica Mangrum's ruling granted a temporary injunction that prevents Texas from enforcing the ban against physicians who in their "good faith judgment" end a pregnancy that, because of complications, creates a risk of infection or is otherwise unsafe for the woman to continue. The injunction also applies to women who have a condition "exacerbated by pregnancy" who can't be effectively treated during their term. It also covers cases where the fetus has a condition that makes it unlikely to survive after birth. "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."

Mangrum's decision said the injunction would run until the completion of the case, which is scheduled for a trial to begin next March 25. However, the state's immediate appeal "stays an activist Austin judge's attempt to override Texas abortion laws pending a ruling by the Texas Supreme Court," said a statement from First Assistant Attorney General Brent Webster. The immediate impact of Mangrum's decision also was unclear in a state where all abortion clinics have shuttered in the past year. The challenge to the state law is believed to be the first in the US brought by women who've 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. In a six-page ruling, the judge found that portions of the abortion law violated the rights afforded to pregnant people under the Texas Constitution.

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The court found that the patients challenging the law each experienced "emergent medical conditions" during pregnancy that risked their health or lives "and required abortion care." However, they were delayed or denied access to such care because of widespread uncertainty about the impact on physicians, the ruling said. "Today's ruling should prevent other Texans from suffering the unthinkable trauma our plaintiffs endured," said Nancy Northup, CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which helped bring the suit. The challenge, filed in March, doesn't seek to repeal Texas' abortion ban, but instead aims to force more clarity on when exceptions are allowed under the law. Under Texas law, 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.

(Read more Texas stories.)

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