When Kimberly Manzano’s doctor first noticed some irregularities with her pregnancy, she turned to God, praying constantly for good news. When the diagnosis worsened, she and her husband sought comfort in the Bible’s Book of Hebrews — the book of hope.
And when her doctor finally determined her baby could not survive outside the womb, she asked her pastor for advice.
“He said, ‘if you believe your doctor to be a godly man, take what the doctor says as clarity from God in your decision,’” she recalls.
Manzano and her husband, both devout Christians, decided the most loving thing they could do for their son was terminate the pregnancy. It was a difficult decision for the couple, who both considered themselves anti-abortion before this.
But that decision, between the Manzanos, their doctor and God, would now have to involve another party — the state of Texas.
Although continuing the pregnancy put her at greater risk for infection and illness, Manzano’s life was not currently in danger, so her doctor would not terminate her pregnancy. Texas’ abortion laws have no explicit exceptions lethal fetal anomalies.
So she and her husband bought last minute flights to New Mexico. Her doctor refused to send her medical records to the clinic, instead requiring her to serve as the go-between.
“I was grieving, I was processing all of this, and then I was also feeling like a criminal,” she recalled recently. “It’s dehumanizing … and it shouldn’t be like this for health care.”
On Tuesday, Manzano and six other women joined an ongoing court challenge to Texas’ abortion laws, bringing the total number of plaintiffs in the lawsuit to 22, including two doctors. The new plaintiffs, like the other patients on the lawsuit, allege they were denied abortion care in Texas for their medically complex pregnancies, including cases where the fetus was not expected to survive after birth. The suit, filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights, claims the state’s near-total ban on abortion violates their rights under the Texas Constitution.
After an emotional hearing in July, a Travis County judge granted a temporary injunction that protected doctors who, acting in their “good faith judgment,” terminate complicated pregnancies. The Texas Office of the Attorney General immediately appealed that ruling, putting it on hold until the Texas Supreme Court hears the case later this month.
“The harms to pregnant women in Texas is continuing every single day,” said Molly Duane, senior staff attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights. “As more people learn about the lawsuit, they continue to tell us the same things are happening to them.”
Manzano’s experience changed her mind about abortion, and she said she’s sharing her story in hopes of educating people who don’t realize how restrictive the state’s abortion ban is.
“I think I was really naive, thinking the world was one way and going through this and seeing it’s not like that,” she said. “But in the end, God knows my heart. He knows why I’ve been through this and I’ll have to stand before him one day, and no one else.”
See here for the previous update. I don’t know what to expect from the Supreme Court. I can’t say I’m optimistic, but I do have some hope. We’ll see how foolish that is. If there’s a good ruling, great. Whether there is or there isn’t, we need to make this an issue in 2024 in ways that we didn’t last year. Even a full victory here means that abortion is still about 99% illegal. It just means that the women in the worst possible positions won’t have to travel out of state and worry about roadside vigilantes to save their lives and be properly cared for.
When the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June 2022, abortion clinics across Texas immediately closed their doors. This marked the culmination of a decades-long effort to stop Texans from terminating unwanted pregnancies within state lines.
But immediately, the ruling opened a new question about how the law’s narrow exceptions should be applied to medically complex pregnancies. The law allows abortions only when the patient “has a life-threatening physical condition aggravated by, caused by, or arising from a pregnancy that places the female at risk of death or poses a serious risk of substantial impairment of a major bodily function.”
Doctors who perform a prohibited abortion face up to life in prison, leading some to delay or deny care because they were unsure if the patient qualified. Some hospitals, fearing legal liability, have increased restrictions on when they allow a doctor to terminate a pregnancy.
As more and more women came forward with stories of wanted pregnancies derailed by medical complications, Gov. Greg Abbott said the Legislature should “clarify what it means to protect the life of the mother.” The Texas Legislature went so far as to affirm doctors’ ability to treat ectopic pregnancies, a nonviable pregnancy where the embryo implants outside the uterus, and preterm premature rupture of the membrane, when a patient’s water breaks before viability.
But the lawsuit from the Center for Reproductive Rights says these protections are not enough to ensure doctors feel safe acting on their best judgment in individual cases.
At the court hearing in July, Dr. Ingrid Skopp, a prominent anti-abortion doctor, agreed patients had received “suboptimal care” since the law went into effect, but said nonetheless, the “law is quite clear.”
“The fault lies with the physicians [who] are not being given guidance by the organizations that usually will give them guidance, the medical societies and the hospital societies,” she said.
The Texas Medical Board, which is a defendant in this case, has not offered clear guidance to doctors on how and when they can terminate pregnancies.
“What is universal in all of the states where abortion is prohibited, and I include in that states that have 6- or 12- or 15-week abortion bans, is that medical exemptions all look pretty similar to Texas’ and in every state, no doctor knows how to interpret them,” said Duane.
The Center for Reproductive Rights has argued that, under the law’s medical exception, women carrying nonviable pregnancies should be able to access abortions in Texas. But as the plaintiffs’ experiences make clear, that’s rarely how doctors and hospitals interpret the law. This has led some women to carry nonviable pregnancies to term, as The Texas Tribune documented in a story last month. Others, like Manzano and Mathisen, have traveled to abortion clinics out of state.
I dunno, the fact that the state is fanatically pursuing its defense of this basically-no-exceptions interpretation, plus the fact that any doctor who might go their own way risks life in jail on a murder charge suggests to me that there’s a little more at play than just a lack of clarity from the Texas Medical Association. Plus, and I’m just spitballing here, I’d bet that any guidance from the TMA that deviated even an inch from what the wingnuts think would be met with overwhelming aggression and threats of legislative action – see, for example, Ken Paxton’s flamethrowing at the State Bar of Texas – and as such it’s easy to see why the TMA has chosen to take the easy way out. It’s not ideal and far from courageous, but who needs that shit? I totally understand why they’d want to let the courts take first crack at it. What might have made a difference would have been for some of the doctors who support generally banning abortion to call for real clarity about what constitutes proper care and the need to let doctors do their jobs. Any idea where we could find such people, Dr. Skopp?