The Texas Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday in a case challenging abortion bans that prohibit the procedure in the instance of a medical emergency. In the case, State v. Zurawski, patients and physicians challenged the state’s abortion laws as it relates to pregnancy complications where the procedure may be necessary.
Nine justices considered whether a temporary injunction ruled by the lower court should be placed. If placed, physicians will have discretion to determine whether the procedure is necessary based on the woman’s health being threatened or if the survival of the fetus is at issue. The injunction would provide an exception to the law, which would allow more people to become eligible for abortions while litigation continues.
The claims by the plaintiffs, argued by Molly Duane with the Center of Reproductive Rights, stated that the language of the laws are vague and requires clarification. Further, the laws left physicians confused as to what care they could provide to patients. One of the laws, Senate Bill 8, prohibits an abortion upon a heartbeat detected. Even with exceptions made to the laws, physicians remained reluctant to perform the procedures.
“The abortion bans as they exist today subjected physicians like my clients to the most extreme penalties imaginable, life in prison and loss of their medical license. And while there is technically a medical exception to the bans, no one knows what it means, and the state won’t tell us,” said Duane.
During the oral argument, the justices sought to clarify the vague language in the laws at issue and determined whether to throw out the case entirely based on the state’s argument that the plaintiffs lacked standing.
Beth Klusmann, arguing for the state, urged the court to lean towards the legislature rather than the judicial system to create an exception for circumstances involving fatal fetal concerns. Ultimately, the state focused on the fact that the plaintiffs lacked standing to bring their claim in court because claims “cannot be a hypothetical or contingent claim. It needs to be certainly impending.”
“They are not seeking clarity for their own individual circumstances. They’re asking the court to declare that the law includes exacerbating maternal health conditions or a condition that makes a pregnancy unsafe or anything like that. That’s an advisory opinion,” said Klusmann.
The justices pressed the state on its arguments regarding a woman’s standing to file suit, medical complications that meet the exception and whether physicians are placed in a “tough position” because of the law.
With Tuesday’s oral arguments concluded, the justices will now consider the case.