Texas Shows ‘Medical Exceptions’ Are a Cruel, Unworkable Way to Deliver Care

The ambiguous "medical exceptions" outlined in Texas' abortion bans result in patients not getting the care they need—and it's by design.

Illustration of an ultrasound with the outline of Texas in it.
Doctors and patients are suing the state of Texas over the ambiguity of "medical exceptions" written into the state's anti-abortion laws. Austen Risolvato/Rewire News Group

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Since Roe fell, a steady drip of stories have reported the devastating experiences of patients forced to carry doomed pregnancies to term—often at great risk to their own lives—because they live in states where abortion is banned. These stories have spawned lawsuits, including one in Texas that tests the limits of so-called medical exceptions in abortion bans.

In March, advocates representing these patients sued the state, arguing that denying patients medically necessary abortion care is unconstitutional and asking the courts to clarify the “medical exceptions” carved out in Texas’ myriad abortion bans. So far, the Texas courts have sided with the patients, blocking the state’s abortion bans as they apply to people with pregnancy complications and clarifying that doctors can use their own medical training and judgment to determine when to provide abortions.

The state of Texas immediately appealed the ruling, blocking it from taking effect. Now, the state supreme court will decide whether to clarify the medical exceptions after hearing arguments this week brought by pregnant people who were denied abortions for their dangerous and life-threatening pregnancy complications.

What started as a group of seven plaintiffs has more than tripled to 22, including two physicians. All of their stories are horrifying. Some patients have been forced to wait until they are near death before a lifesaving abortion is approved by a board of hospital bureaucrats. Others have been forced to deliver stillborn or have their babies die shortly after birth. Doctors have agonized over turning patients away from care they would otherwise provide immediately out of fear of potentially losing their medical licenses and facing up to 99 years in prison.

In the meantime, it’s a waiting game to see if the courts will determine patients worthy enough for care and allow providers to legally provide it, as it could be months before the Texas Supreme Court issues a ruling.

It’s a cruel, unworkable way to deliver reproductive health care, and the anti-choice movement knows it. They designed it to be this way.