The challenge is believed to be the first in the U.S. brought by women who have been denied abortions since the Supreme Court last year overturned Roe v. Wade, which for nearly 50 years had affirmed the constitutional right to an abortion.
The state is expected to seek a swift appeal and has argued that Texas’ ban already allows exceptions, calling doctors’ fears of prosecution unfounded.
“Today’s ruling should prevent other Texans from suffering the unthinkable trauma our plaintiffs endured,” said Nancy Northup, President and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which helped bring the lawsuit. “It would be unconscionable for the State of Texas to appeal this ruling.”
The immediate impact of State District Judge Jessica Mangrum’s decision was unclear in Texas, where all abortion clinics have shuttered in the past year. During two days of emotional testimony in an Austin courtroom, women gave wrenching accounts of learning their babies would not survive birth and being unable to travel long distances to states where abortion is still legal.
“The court has been clear: doctors must be able to provide patients the standard of care in pregnancy complications,” Northup said. “That standard of care in certain cases is abortion because it is essential, life-saving healthcare. This decision is a win for Texans with pregnancy complications, however Texas is still denying the right to abortion care for the vast majority of those who seek it.”
The challenge, filed in March, does not seek to repeal Texas’ abortion ban, but instead aims to force more clarity on when exceptions are allowed under the law, which is one of the most restrictive in the U.S.
Under the law in Texas, doctors who perform abortions risk life in prison and fines of up to $100,000. Opponents say that has left some women with providers who are unwilling to even discuss terminating a pregnancy.
The majority of U.S. adults, including those living in states with the strictest limits on abortion, want it to be legal at least through the initial stages of pregnancy, according to a poll released in late June by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.