Critical Amicus Brief Filed in Zurawski v. State of Texas Before the Texas Supreme Court on Texas Abortion Ban Exceptions

New amicus curiae brief before the Texas Supreme Court

Women Enabled International (WEI), the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF), and the Texas Civil Rights Project (TCRP) filed an amicus brief on behalf of eleven disability rights organizations and scholars in the Texas Supreme Court, advocating for an interpretation of the medical exception to the state’s abortion ban that is inclusive of both the life and health of the pregnant person. The brief highlights the disproportionate impact of the ban on individuals with disabilities, who are more likely to rely on medical exceptions than non-disabled individuals.

About the case

The Center for Reproductive Rights filed Zurawski v. State of Texas on March 6, 2023 asking the state of Texas to clarify the scope of the “medical emergency” exceptions under its abortion bans. The 22 plaintiffs represented in the case include 20 women who were denied abortion care in Texas–despite risks to their health, fertility, and lives—and two Texas obstetrician-gynecologists who have been unable to provide abortion care under the bans. The case, filed in state court in Austin, is the first lawsuit brought on behalf of women denied abortions since the U.S. Supreme Court eliminated the constitutional right to abortion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health on June 24, 2022.

While Texas’ three laws banning abortion contain exceptions for the life and health of the pregnant person, the confusing language of these medical exceptions, coupled with harsh professional, civil, and criminal penalties and Texas’s hostile abortion landscape, deter doctors from providing abortions even where medically necessary. The plaintiffs argue that Texas’s abortion bans contain conflicting language and non-medical terminology, making it unclear when physicians are permitted to provide care under the laws’ “medical emergency” exception; therefore, the court’s interpretation should allow physicians to exercise their good-faith judgment regarding what patients qualify under medical exceptions.

On August 4, 2023, a Texas district judge issued an injunction blocking Texas’s abortion bans as they apply to dangerous pregnancy complications, clarifying that doctors can use their own medical judgment to determine when to provide abortion care in emergency situations. The ruling also denied the state’s request to throw out the case, and it found S.B. 8—Texas’s citizen-enforced abortion ban—unconstitutional. The state immediately appealed the ruling to the Texas Supreme Court, blocking it from taking effect. On November 28, 2023, the Texas Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the state’s appeal of the district court’s ruling and the case is currently awaiting the Supreme Court’s ruling.

About the amicus curiae brief

An amicus curiae (“friend of the court,” in Latin) is a person or organization that has a strong interest in the issues brought up in a case to which they are not a party. The amicus curiae may submit a written report setting forth its interpretation of the law or arguments relating to the facts under consideration by the Court.

WEI, DREDF, and TCRP have filed an amicus brief with eight other disability rights organizations and scholars including:

  • The American Association of People with Disabilities
  • The Autistic Self Advocacy Network
  • Autistic Women & Nonbinary Network
  • The Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law
  • Disability Rights Advocates
  • The National Health Law Program
  • Professor Ruth Colker (JD)
  • Professor Robyn M. Powell (PhD, JD)

The amicus brief that restrictions on legal access to abortion place an undue burden on individuals with disabilities, who often require specialized medical care and may face additional challenges in carrying a pregnancy to term. The amicus brief urges the Texas Supreme Court to interpret the medical exception to the abortion ban in a manner that upholds their rights and safeguards their well-being.

WEI, DREDF, and TCRP’s amicus brief argues the following key points:

  • Texas’ abortion bans and the current confusion regarding the applicability of the medical exceptions create a healthcare crisis that disproportionately harms people with disabilities. People with disabilities are more at risk for severe maternal morbidities and maternal mortality during their pregnancies than non-disabled people and pregnancy can worsen disability-related health outcomes.
  • Texas’ abortion bans exacerbate the harms that people with disabilities already encounter, given widespread discrimination and barriers to accessing abortion care (including travel- related and financial barriers). The combined effect of the chilling effect on the provision of abortion care due to Texas’ laws and barriers to accessing care is that people with disabilities are at high risk of total denial of medically necessary abortion care within Texas.
  • Restricting access to abortion care does not protect people with disabilities or advance any claimed state interest in opposing discrimination. Both the disability rights movement and the reproductive justice movement are united in the pursuit of autonomy, dignity, equality, and self-determination.
  • Disabled people have the right to protect their life and health under both the Texas Constitution’s Due Course Clause and Equal Protection Clause.

The amicus brief can be viewed here.