Updated May 31, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Texas Supreme Court rejects lawsuit over abortion ban exceptions

Pro-abortion demonstrators near the Texas Capitol building in 2022 in Austin.

Pro-abortion demonstrators near the Texas Capitol building in 2022 in Austin. Photo: Suzanne Cordeiro/AFP via Getty Images

The Texas Supreme Court on Friday unanimously ruled against 22 women who suffered complications during pregnancy who had sued the state over its near-total abortion ban.

Why it matters: The state Supreme Court struck down a lower court's ruling that clarified when abortion exceptions for medical emergencies should be allowed.

Context: The lawsuit, originally filed in March 2023, didn't seek to overturn Texas's ban but only to clarify when medical exceptions are allowed under the law.

  • Critics have said the ambiguity over when exceptions are allow has contributed to confusion among doctors — who can be charged with a first-degree felony if they violate the law.
  • They have also argued the confusion and possibility of criminal liability endangers the lives of pregnant women, who could denied necessary and potentially life-saving abortions.

How it works: Texas's ban, one of the strictest in the country, does not include exceptions for rape or incest.

  • Under it, physicians can perform an abortion only if the pregnant person's life is at risk or if the pregnancy "poses a serious risk of substantial impairment of a major bodily function." The provider must also attempt to save the fetus.
  • A state district court judge ruled last summer that the state could not prosecute doctors who terminated a complicated pregnancy in their "good faith judgment," but the order was almost immediately blocked through an appeal by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's office.

What's inside: The Texas Supreme Court, which is comprised only of elected Republicans, ruled Friday that the lower court's ruling was flawed because "all pregnancies carry risks."

  • "While merely being pregnant may increase a mother's risk of death or injury, pregnancy itself is not a 'life-threatening physical condition' under the law," the court said.
  • "Because the trial court's order opens the door to permit abortion to address any pregnancy risk, it is not a faithful interpretation of the law."

Between the lines: The court kept in place the medical exception portion of the state's ban, saying "Texas law permits a life-saving abortion."

  • However, it eliminated an attempt to clarify when a physical condition could kill or impair a pregnant woman.
  • No matter how the court ruled on Friday, Texas's ban would have remained in effect.

The big picture: The debate over what medical emergency merits legal abortion is occurring as infant and maternal mortalities have both spiked in Texas.

Go deeper: Why abortion won't be on the Texas ballot in 2024

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