NEWS: Women denied abortions file landmark lawsuit

by | Mar 9, 2023 | Reproductive Rights

In Texas, Women Denied Abortions File Landmark Lawsuit

Ms. Magazine, March 7, 2023

Zurawski v. Texas, a new lawsuit announced Tuesday, March 7, marks the first time patients directly affected by abortion laws have sought to challenge them in court. Filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) on behalf of five Texans directly harmed by bans and two Texas ob-gyns, the lawsuit aims to hold the state of Texas accountable for the consequences of the state’s multiple anti-abortion laws. Currently, three dueling abortion bans are in effect in the state: House Bill 1280, a “trigger” law passed in 2021 prohibiting all abortion if and when Roe v. Wade is overturned, which took effect in June 2022; a criminal ban dating back to the creation of the state’s penal code in 1857, often called the “pre-Roe statutes”; Senate Bill 8, a ban on abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy, which contains the infamous “vigilante” provision incentivizing private citizens to file lawsuits against anyone who “aids or abets” an abortion, resulting in at least $10,000 in damages. All three bans have no exceptions for rape or incest. While the laws do contain “medical emergency” exceptions, doctors and healthcare providers—who face up to 99 years in prison for providing an abortion under the trigger ban alone—have reported widespread confusion over what qualifies as an exception. “Since Texas’ abortion bans took effect, my hands are tied in many situations,” said Dr. Damla Karsan, a plaintiff in the case. “I’ve had to send patients to other states for abortion care that I could have easily given them right across the street at the hospital. I know most Texas doctors are scared to provide abortions in any circumstances or even say the word ‘abortion.’ We need clarity on what kinds of patients we can help without losing our license or ending up in jail.” The CRR lawsuit argues the three laws violate the pregnant women’s fundamental human rights and the Texas constitution’s guarantees to life, liberty and equality and the rights of physicians—namely, their rights to pursue their profession without risking loss of liberty. The five women named in the lawsuit—Amanda Zurawski, Lauren Miller, Lauren Hall, Anna Zargarian and Ashley Brandt—say they were denied medically necessary abortions, even though their conditions should have qualified under the state’s abortion ban exceptions. Instead, all of their conditions worsened, posing risks to their fertility, health and lives.

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Walgreens Faces Blowback for Not Offering Abortion Pills in 21 States

The New York Times, March 7, 2023

Walgreens landed at the center of a consumer and political firestorm in recent days, after saying it would not dispense an abortion pill in 21 states where Republican attorneys general have threatened legal action against pharmacies that try to distribute the medication. The company confirmed late last week that it would not distribute mifepristone, the first pill in a two-drug medication abortion regimen, weeks after it and other large pharmacy chains received letters signed by those attorneys general. In each of the states, abortion is either banned or laws or proposed or pending legislation would prevent pharmacists from dispensing pills. The situation starkly reflects the patchwork legal framework that sizable pharmacy chains like Walgreens, which is the second largest in the country, must navigate after last summer’s Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, which for nearly 50 years had enshrined a national right to an abortion. Since then, 13 states have made abortion illegal while others have tightened access to it, including through restrictions related to abortion pills. While chains like CVS and Rite Aid face the same legal and reputational quagmire as Walgreens, they are staying quiet on the matter. A spokesman for Walgreens, Fraser Engerman, said Tuesday that the chain had always said it would dispense mifepristone where state laws allowed pharmacists to do so and that it had decided before it received the letters from the attorneys general that it would face legal repercussions in those 21 states. The Food and Drug Administration said in January that retail pharmacies could become certified to offer mifepristone, which could previously be dispensed only by clinics, doctors and a few mail-order pharmacies. “We understood the moment we decided to participate in the F.D.A. program that we would have to navigate these two set of restrictions, including complete abortion bans and requirements around who can actually dispense the medication,” Mr. Engerman said. “We have said from the beginning we will dispense this medication wherever we legally can once we are certified by the F.D.A.,” he added, “but at the same time we have to follow the law.”

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Democrats See Abortion as Electrifying Issue in 2024

The Hill, March 9, 2023

Democrats see abortion as an electrifying issue heading into 2024 amid signs voter energy hasn’t abated in the months since Roe v. Wade was overturned. The party and abortion rights activists credit the issue with keeping competitive races in play for them this year, including Virginia’s state Senate special election in January and last month’s Wisconsin Supreme Court primary. Members of the party now warn against writing off abortion as a key issue in upcoming elections as states like Florida, where a six-week abortion ban was filed in the state legislature this week, keep the issue top of mind for voters. “If you’re looking for canaries in a coal mine, we don’t have to squint to see this in the same way that we undervalued, perhaps, the role that the Dobbs decision was going to play in the 2022 midterms,” said Wisconsin-based Democratic strategist Joe Zepecki. “I think it is extremely unwise for people to undervalue the issue of abortion as a force in American politics going forward.” Some Democrats, including Zepecki, argue that politicos last cycle underestimated the magnitude to which abortion motivated voter turnout and swung decisive voting blocs – even bringing in new voters like what the Wisconsin Democratic strategist called “Dobbs dads,” or men who became more aware of the issue through their daughters. Democrats point to the enduring salience of abortion in the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s primary in February – a race that has been recognized as nonpartisan in name only. The battle over legal abortion looms large in the race, given that the state Supreme Court is likely to weigh in on an 1849 abortion law that bans close to all abortions in the state. Milwaukee County Judge Janet Protasiewicz, seen as one of the liberal candidates, has been an outspoken supporter of abortion rights and featured the issue in one of her ads ahead of the primary. She notched 47 percent of the vote during the primary while former state Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly, seen as one of the conservative candidates, received 24 percent. Both will proceed to the April 4 general election.

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6-Week Abortion Bans Could Limit Care Access for 90% of People in Need

Patient Engagement HIT, March 9, 2023

Georgia’s abortion ban would restrict care access for nearly 90 percent of those seeking an abortion in the state, with the biggest impacts being on Black people, young people, and those with lower socioeconomic status, according to figures from the Emory University Rollins School of Public Health. The abortion law in question, HB481, is the result of a trigger ban that went into effect after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health case in June 2022. HB481 states that individuals may not receive an abortion after embryonic cardiac activity can be detected. That means individuals would have to access an abortion before six weeks’ gestation time; experts have said many individuals do not even know they are pregnant before that point. “Restrictive abortion policies are structural determinants that dictate who can access health care, and via what means,” the researchers wrote in JAMA Network Open. “Laws like HB481 that ban abortion early in pregnancy are a favored political tactic by antiabortion legislators and advocates; these laws fundamentally strip individuals of their reproductive bodily autonomy and cause harm at any stage in pregnancy.” These laws seriously impede patient access to care, the researchers added. In an assessment of all abortions conducted in the state between 2007 and 2017, the researchers concluded that the law could mean only around one in 10 people who need an abortion would be able to get one. In other words, the law is very restrictive based on previous patterns of abortion care access. The researchers reviewed data about the 360,972 reported abortions that happened in Georgia between 2007 and 2017 and assessed whether they would meet the eligibility criteria set up as part of HB481. All said, only 3,854, or 12 percent, of the abortions would have met the criteria set up under the six-week abortion ban. That means nearly 90 percent of those seeking abortion care would not have been allowed to get one if HB481 had been in effect during the study period. That trend could indicate that abortion care access is unattainable for nearly 90 percent of cases now, the researchers said.

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Introducing the Abortion Defense Network

National Women’s Law Center, March 8, 2023

When the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, it didn’t just annihilate our constitutional right to abortion. It opened the door to legal chaos. Anti-abortion politicians have been emboldened to pursue a mind-boggling range of laws and policies putting at legal risk people who provide, support, or seek abortion. And extremists are pursuing politically-motivated lawsuits to end abortion access—like the case purposefully brought before an openly anti-abortion judge which any day now could impose a nationwide ban on abortion medication, even in states where abortion is protected. In addition to creating chaos for patients, this post-Roe changing legal landscape has created quicksand for those who provide or support abortion. People who could get caught up in laws targeting abortion include: The social worker who talks to you about abortion as an option. The abortion fund that helps you pay for the abortion. The friend who drives you to the clinic. The doctor who performs the abortion once you’ve gotten there—or the receptionist who greets you at the door. Abortion providers and supporters like these are increasingly being threatened with civil lawsuits, criminal prosecution, and other legal action because of their proximity to abortion. The National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) has come together with five other reproductive rights organizations* to provide people with the legal resources they need to navigate the post–Roe landscape. In February 2023, we launched the Abortion Defense Network (ADN). The goal of this network is simple: Defend abortion providers and supporters caught up in the legal system. Anyone in the U.S. working to provide or support abortion care can seek legal assistance from the Abortion Defense Network. After filling out an intake form, individuals or organizations will hear back from an attorney within 24 hours. People will then be matched with values-aligned attorneys who may be able to provide legal advice or represent them if they’re being criminally prosecuted or facing civil action. And while ADN focuses on providers and supporters, patients aren’t forgotten—they will continue to be served by the Repro Legal Helpline. We also know that our legal system is incredibly expensive. And everyone deserves legal representation, regardless of their ability to pay. Our goal is to expand the resources available for this purpose.

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