AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Anna Zargarian’s lifelong dream of becoming a mother was shattered when her water broke about 20 weeks early, and her doctor said her baby would not survive outside of the womb. Physicians told Zargarian her pregnancy would have to be terminated in order to save her own life, but they could not provide that under Texas abortion laws.

She is one of five Texas women suing the state after they say they were denied abortion access, despite having pregnancy complications that risked their lives or the life of their baby.

“Finally, one doctor told me ‘you’re wasting your time trying to obtain help here at home.’ So in my cloud of grief, I spent the next few hours coordinating flights, hotels, and worst of — all trying to find an out-of-state abortion clinic that could schedule me immediately,” Zargarian said.

The women, represented by the Center for Reproductive Rights, filed suit against the state of Texas Monday night and shared their stories during a press conference at the Texas Capitol Tuesday.

“What I needed most in that moment was the choice that Texas lawmakers robbed me of the choice to lose my child with dignity,” Zargarian said. “An already extremely difficult situation had an extra layer of trauma, because of medical decisions that were made by lawmakers and politicians, and not by me.”

Their 91-page complaint said they — along with “countless” other pregnant women — were denied “necessary and potentially life-saving obstetrical care, because medical professionals throughout the state fear liability under Texas’s abortion bans.” The complaint went into great detail of the women’s experience with miscarriages and other complications.

“Contrary to their stated purpose of furthering life, the bans are exposing pregnant people to risks of death, injury, and illness, including loss of fertility — making it less likely that every family who wants to bring children into the world will be able to do so and survive the experience,” the lawsuit reads.

Current Texas abortion laws

Once the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last summer, Texas was one of 13 states where abortion bans were automatically instated. Texas’ trigger law prohibits all abortions except under limited circumstances, such as a “life-threatening condition to the mother caused by the pregnancy.” Abortion will be punishable by up to life in prison and at least a $100,000 fine for each offense.

Abortion opponents said the state’s trigger law works in concert with Texas’ 2021 law, known as Senate Bill 8- which allows private citizens to sue providers or anyone who aids and abets abortions that occur after six weeks.

While the lawsuit does not seek to overturn the laws altogether, plaintiffs are asking the court to allow physicians to make exceptions to Texas laws and to clarify under what circumstances they can do so.

According to an August letter submitted as evidence in the lawsuit, the author of one of Texas’ 2021 abortion laws wrote the Texas Medical Board, asking to issue guidance for physicians to ensure women are able to get life-saving care when experiencing pregnancy complications.

In his letter, Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, cites “egregious” examples of women who were denied care after experiencing complications like an ectopic pregnancy.

He goes on to cite current Texas code, which defines a medical emergency as “a life-threatening physical condition aggravated by, caused by, or arising from a pregnancy that, as certified by a physician, places the woman in danger of death or a serious risk of substantial impairment of a major bodily function unless an abortion is performed.” 

Hughes said the Texas law he authored “expressly allows for a physician to perform or induce an abortion “if a physician believes that a medical emergency exists,” asking the board to investigate these allegations as potential malpractice by a physician.

“Pregnancy complications such as these should be swiftly and reasonably treated to prevent or address a medical emergency determined by the physician,” Hughes said in the letter.

The lawsuit argues despite this assertion, physicians are fearful of getting sued under the law as currently written, and therefore has “chilled the provision of necessary obstetric care, including abortion care.”

“What the law is forcing physicians to do is weigh these very real threats of criminal prosecution against the health and well being of their patients,” said Nancy Northup, CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, at the press conference. “No one should be forced to wait until they are at death’s door to receive health care.”

Legislative proposals on abortion exceptions

Two bills, SB 123 and HB 2215, have been filed in each chamber of the Texas Legislature to change the language in the law to clarify when exceptions are allowed, similar to the situations these five women faced. Both pieces of legislation were filed by Democrats, meaning a likely uphill battle on the politically-charged topic of abortion.

Sen. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, authored SB 123 and provided a written statement to Nexstar on the lawsuit and her bill.

”When the legislature passed the trigger ban, many of us warned that the exception to save the life of a pregnant patient was too vague and undefined and this would have a chilling effect on doctors, leading to denial or delay of care. I worked with doctors to craft the language for SB 123 to make sure patients don’t have to go into septic shock before they can access care. My heart breaks for these five women and the likely many more who have been affected by these severe restrictions. I will continue to fight for women to be able to receive the most appropriate and humane care without needlessly risking their lives and adding trauma to a situation that is already mentally and physically complicated.”

Senator Carol Alvarado, D-Houston

In Nexstar’s previous one-on-one interviews with Gov. Greg Abbott and Speaker of the House Dade Phelan, both Republican leaders expressed openness to clarifying the language in Texas’ abortion laws.

However, no Republicans to date have filed such legislation. The deadline for lawmakers to file new bills is Friday.