The Texas Supreme Court is currently contemplating clarifications on medical exceptions to the state's stringent abortion prohibition. The request for clarification came from a coalition of women's and doctors' organizations seeking to ensure that women entitled to abortions are not denied access due to uncertainty and fear of prosecution. This reconsideration of the law comes as the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the power to legislate on abortion to individual states in June 2022.
The Current State of Abortion Laws
Since the U.S. Supreme Court's decision, approximately twenty states have either outright banned or severely restricted abortions. Texas has been a forerunner in this, prohibiting abortions even in instances of incest or rape. The only exceptions to this rule are in situations where the mother's life is in danger or a severe disability is present. Physicians face severe penalties if they perform abortions outside these provisions.
Despite the outlined exceptions, a lower court judge ruled in August that plaintiffs had encountered delays or outright denial in accessing abortion services due to confusion around doctors' discretion. Representing the Texas Attorney General's Office, Beth Klusmann contended that the lower court had exceeded its jurisdiction by altering the law, leading to the suspension of the decision pending appeal. The judges, all Republicans, listened to arguments that the necessity for clarification stems from the fact that some women, who are legally entitled to abortions, were refused due to physicians' fear of prosecution.
Molly Duane, representing the Center for Reproductive Rights, contended that doctors are apprehensive about invoking these exceptions due to the lack of clarity, and the state's refusal to elucidate them, thereby risking prosecution. The Texas Supreme Court's decision on this matter will set a significant benchmark for the future of abortion laws and women's reproductive rights in the state and potentially beyond.