Texas Supreme Court rejects challenge on exceptions to abortion ban

The Texas Supreme Court on Friday unanimously rejected a challenge to the state’s strict abortion ban, ruling against a group of 22 women and abortion providers who sought to expand the exceptions for medical emergencies under the law.

While the challenge will continue in trial court, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton would almost certainly appeal any loss there, and the high court’s decision Friday made clear that he would ultimately prevail. The lawsuit, filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights, was the first on behalf of women denied abortions after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade two years ago. While the case revolves around the question of what counts as an exception — unlike other lawsuits, it did not seek to overturn a state ban — it has changed the political debate around abortion by underscoring the potentially devastating medical consequences of abortion bans even for women who were not seeking to end unwanted pregnancies. The court’s 38-page decision on Friday agreed that the experiences the women had recounted in testimony — some so painful that a judge ordered the court into recess — were “filled with immense personal heartbreak.” But it said that Texas law allowed abortions for any woman who faces a life-threatening condition, “before death or serious physical impairment are imminent.”

Echoing arguments from the state and anti-abortion groups, the court blamed doctors for misinterpreting the law.

“A physician who tells a patient, ‘Your life is threatened by a complication that has arisen during your pregnancy, and you may die, or there is a serious risk you will suffer substantial physical impairment unless an abortion is performed,’ and in the same breath states ‘but the law won’t allow me to provide an abortion in these circumstances’ is simply wrong in that legal assessment,” Justice Jane Bland — like all nine of the justices and the attorney general, an elected Republican — wrote in the unanimous opinion.

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