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Women with pregnancy complications tell a Texas court how abortion bans affected them

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It's the second day of a court hearing challenging abortion bans in Texas.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Thirteen women who had pregnancy complications and were denied abortions sued Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and the state medical board. Some of these women took the stand and shared their heartbreaking experiences.

MARTIN: NPR Selena Simmons-Duffin is in Austin covering the proceedings, and she's with us now. Selena, welcome. Thanks for joining us.

SELENA SIMMONS-DUFFIN, BYLINE: Hi, Michel.

MARTIN: So let's just start with the hearing that began yesterday. Would you just tell us about it?

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Yeah. I mean, it was extremely intense. There was emotional testimony. The room was very quiet, and at times everybody was crying, including attorneys for the state. One of the people who testified was Samantha Casiano. I was actually the first person to publish her story in April. She found out around Christmas of last year that she was pregnant with a fetus who had anencephaly, which means part of its brain and skull did not form. It is always fatal, but she couldn't afford to get an abortion out of state and she couldn't get one in Texas because of the bans. Her daughter was born early and lived for only four hours. Here is her attorney, Molly Duane, questioning her on the witness stand yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MOLLY DUANE: What did you think about during those four hours?

SAMANTHA CASIANO: I just kept telling myself and my baby that I'm so sorry that this had to happen to you. I felt so bad. She had no mercy. There was no mercy there for her.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: At one point, Casiano was so overcome with emotion, she actually became physically ill on the stand, and the court quickly adjourned for a break.

MARTIN: It does sound intense. So what are the plaintiffs asking for?

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Attorneys from the Center for Reproductive Rights are asking the judge in this court in Travis County, Judge Jessica Mangrum, for a temporary injunction on the abortion bans in cases of pregnancy complications. There is a very narrow exception for emergency abortions in Texas, but they argue that the language is unclear and it leaves out many of the patients in this suit who were harmed by having to wait or travel for - out of state for care.

MARTIN: And how is the state of Texas responding?

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: The state is asking the judge to dismiss the case. They're arguing that the patients don't have standing because they're not currently being harmed and future harm in future pregnancies is only hypothetical, and they're saying that the state can't be blamed for the denial of care, but rather their doctors should be blamed. Here's Texas Assistant Attorney General Amy Pletscher questioning one of the plaintiffs.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AMY PLETSCHER: At any time, did Attorney General Paxton tell you that you couldn't receive an abortion?

AMANDA ZURAWSKI: I never spoke to Attorney General Ken Paxton directly, no.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: She actually asked that question of every patient on the stand yesterday. And answering her in that clip was Amanda Zurawski. Her water broke too early at 17 weeks, but she was denied an induction or abortion, and while waiting for treatment, she actually went into septic shock and was in the ICU for three days. After the hearing yesterday, Zurawski said she was shocked by how callous the state's cross-examination of her was.

ZURAWSKI: I survived sepsis and I don't think today was much less traumatic than that.

MARTIN: The whole experience sounds, you know, gut-wrenching. And I understand that there's more testimony today?

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Yes. The witnesses today are all physicians. One is actually suing as a patient who herself had to travel out of state for an abortion. The others are expert witnesses. And one of the physicians is being called by the state and will explain why she does not think the medical exemption is too narrow or unclear. It's expected to be another full day, and the ruling could come at any point after it concludes.

MARTIN: That's NPR's Selena Simmons-Duffin. Selena, thank you so much for sharing this reporting with us.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Yes, thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Selena Simmons-Duffin reports on health policy for NPR.