life after roe

Texas Won’t Stop Torturing Women Denied Abortions

Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Three women who are suing the state of Texas after being denied abortion care took the stand on Wednesday to describe, in excruciating detail, what were certainly some of the worst moments of their lives. Among them was Samantha Casiano, whose daughter had been diagnosed with anencephaly, a fatal condition, at 20 weeks. Unable to afford to travel out of state, the 29-year-old was forced to carry the pregnancy to term. Halo died, four hours after being born, in her father’s arms. “She was gasping for air,” Casiano testified. “I just kept telling myself and my baby that I’m so sorry that this has happened to you. I felt so bad. She had no mercy.”

Casiano repeatedly described what she and her family went through as “torture.” At one point, she became so upset that she vomited. Two other plaintiffs — Amanda Zurawski, who nearly died of sepsis after she was denied an abortion when her water broke at 18 weeks, and Ashley Brandt, who was forced to travel out of state to terminate a nonviable fetus — cried as they recounted their experiences on the stand. The state’s attorneys were cold to their distress and went to great lengths to shift blame to their health providers and, implicitly, the plaintiffs themselves.

In their opening statement, lawyers for Texas called the lawsuit an “ideological crusade,” adding that the plaintiffs’ “pain is in the past” and any “future harm” the abortion bans could cause them “is hypothetical.” There was no acknowledgment of the plaintiffs’ ongoing suffering due to their emotional and physical trauma. Throughout each cross-examination, the attorneys ruthlessly minimized the women’s experiences and attempted to poke holes in their stories. “I survived sepsis, and I don’t think today was much less traumatic than that,” Zurawski said at a press conference following the hearing.

Zurawski v. State of Texas is the first legal challenge of its kind since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Texas since has outlawed abortion except in instances of narrowly defined medical emergencies; the plaintiffs, which include 13 women who were denied emergency abortion care and two doctors, argue that the exception is too vague and has led medical providers to turn away patients for fear of being prosecuted or held liable. (Those who violate the law could face life in prison, in addition to a civil penalty of no less than $100,000.)

The plaintiffs, represented by the Center for Reproductive Rights, are asking for a temporary injunction, which would only suspend enforcement of Texas’s abortion bans while the state clarifies the exceptions. The state’s legal representatives, Assistant Attorney General Amy Pletscher and Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Stone, have asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit. They also tried to weaponize the women’s own heartbreaking experiences: In a motion to dismiss the case filed last week, the lawyers accused the 13 patients of going on a “media tour.” They linked specifically to Casiano’s GoFundMe, which she created to offset the costs of a funeral for Halo and has since raised $50,000.

At the Wednesday hearing, Texas’s lawyers argued that the plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge the abortion bans because they are unlikely to get pregnant again. Each of the three patients who testified said as much: Zurawski recounted how becoming septic left her with so much scar tissue in her reproductive organs that it’ll be challenging for her to have another child. Brandt said that her husband underwent a vasectomy following their experience, while Casiano had her tubes removed. “That’s one decision that I can make for myself that Texas can’t take from me,” Casiano previously told the Cut.

The attorneys’ craven framing was not lost on the plaintiffs. Zurawski testified that their argument was “infuriating and disgusting and ironic.” She added: “Do they not realize the reason why I might not be able to get pregnant again is because of what happened to me as a result of the laws that they support?”

The lawyers also frequently objected while the women described their experiences. When Zurawski described going into septic shock, and her doctor affirming that she was considered “sick enough” to go into the hospital and receive treatment, Pletscher objected to her description as “hearsay.” The judge overruled the objection. Then, during cross-examination, Pletscher tried to paint Zurawski’s testimony as inconsistent with an affidavit she’d submitted and which outlined when she was diagnosed with pre-viability preterm prelabor rupture of the membranes (PPROM). The judge said Zurawski’s testimony was consistent.

Also on cross-examination, Casiano testified that she was afraid of being prosecuted if she sought abortion care out of state. Pletscher asked whether she’d be “surprised” that Texas law explicitly prohibits penalizing abortion seekers — not that such prohibitions have stopped overzealous prosecutors in the past. (Lizelle Herrera was charged with murder for allegedly self-managing an abortion in Texas shortly before Roe was overturned; the charges were later dropped.) “I just wanna make sure I understand correctly,” Casiano responded. “So what you’re trying to tell me is I could have got an abortion. I just can’t get an abortion in the place I was born and raised in where I live.” When Pletscher repeated that the question was whether Casiano would be surprised, she said: “I think I would feel confused that that’s even some type of law worded that way.”

The condescension did not stop there. The lawyers also asked each woman if Attorney General Ken Paxton, or anyone else representing the state of Texas, had personally denied them an abortion. Each said no; Casiano added, “I’m sure if I was in front of them, they would tell me that there’s a law for it.”

In its request to dismiss the lawsuit, Texas argued that the plaintiffs’ doctors — not the state — are at fault for the harm they experienced, and that any potential future harm is hypothetical. Molly Duane, who represents the plaintiffs, challenged this notion in court. “Does the state think that the only person who would have standing to challenge an abortion law is a woman who comes to court with amniotic fluid or blood dripping down her leg?”

In a press conference following the hearing, Zuraswki said she was taken aback by the state attorneys’ questions. “I was really just horrified at how over and over again the cross-examination was willing to just ask repeatedly about the most horrific thing that has ever happened to me, seemingly with nothing but callousness,” she said. “Trying to expose the worst part of our lives and use it against us says a lot about the state and how they feel about their constituents.” It’s unfathomably cruel that the state has forced these women to wait to receive medical care until their own lives were in danger, to travel to terminate nonviable pregnancies, and to carry to term children that were doomed to die. And it’s even crueler that they must revisit that private pain in public, over and over again, in hopes someone with the power to change the law will listen.

The Cut offers an online tool you can use to search by Zip Code for professional providers, including clinics, hospitals, and independent OB/GYNs, as well as for abortion funds, transportation options, and information for remote resources like receiving the abortion pill by mail. For legal guidance, contact Repro Legal Helpline at 844-868-2812 or the Abortion Defense Network.

Texas Won’t Stop Torturing Women Denied Abortions