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In a 9-0 ruling, the Texas Supreme Court rejected a pro-abortion challenge to expand the state’s near-total abortion ban beyond its narrow exception for preserving the life of the mother.
The case centers around about 20 women who say they were denied emergency abortions when their doctors were uncertain about what the state’s Human Life Protection Act” allowed them to do in certain medical cases. The plaintiffs, which includes women and their doctors, complained the exception was “confusing,” as well as “unconstitutional” if the law did not allow abortion under a broader set of pregnancy complications. A lower trial court issued an order replacing the law’s life-threating requirement allowing abortion for “any ‘unsafe’ pregnancy” and for fatal fetal anomalies. At the behest of the plaintiffs, the trial court also changed the standard of how doctors determine when abortion is necessary from a “reasonable medical judgment” standard to a “good faith belief” standard, which would give doctors more discretion to abort unborn babies.
However, the Texas High Court struck down that lower court order and concluded the law already gives doctors the “legal authority” to perform an abortion when necessary.
“Texas law permits a life-saving abortion,” stated the state High Court. “The law permits a physician to intervene to address a woman’s life-threatening physical condition before death or serious physical impairment are imminent.”
The state High Court also expressly addressed the challengers’ confusion about what is allowed under the law. The Court stated that any physician who tells a pregnant patient they “may die” or suffer “substantial physical impairment” without an abortion, and “in the same breath,” says the law will not allow it “is simply wrong in that legal assessment.” The Court emphasized a mother need not be in “imminent peril” or “first suffer” impairment for doctors to intervene.
While the challengers argued that Texas abortion law should allow for abortion when the unborn child is unlikely to survive outside the womb even when the mother’s life is not a risk, the state High Court flatly rejected that argument.
“The current law, however, plainly does not permit abortion based solely on a diagnosis that an unborn child has an abnormal condition, even a life-limiting one,” the Court stated. “An unborn child’s diagnosis must be coupled with reasonable medical judgment that the mother has a life-threatening physical condition…or serious physical impairment.”
Next, the Texas Supreme Court held that the lower court erred in creating a good faith standard in place of the law’s “reasonable medical judgment” standard. The plaintiffs argued that “not every doctor might reach the same medical judgment” creating a potential “battle of the experts” over certain pregnancy cases. The Court wrote that “a subjective standard” focuses on a doctor’s “intent” rather than “medical facts.” Therefore, the state High Court held that “reasonable medical judgment” did not mean that every doctor need not reach the same conclusion and “can turn to peer-reviewed best practices” for how best to treat their patient.
Finally, the Texas High Court recognized the state’s historical commitment to protecting unborn life.
“The history of abortion regulation in Texas demonstrates the Legislature’s unmistakable commitment to protecting the lives of pregnant women experiencing life-threatening complications while also valuing and protecting unborn life,” wrote the Court.
Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “The Texas Supreme Court has ruled that the state’s constitution and abortion law protect both a mother and her unborn child. The pro-abortion industry is sowing confusion where the law is clear. Doctors can use their ‘reasonable medical judgment’ based on best practices to treat pregnant women experiencing a life-threatening condition. Texas law is on the side of life.”

Author: Liberty Counsel


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