© 2024 Texas Public Radio
Real. Reliable. Texas Public Radio.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Abortion confusion continues in Texas

Ways To Subscribe
Abortion Clinic in New Mexico
David Martin Davies
Abortion Clinic in New Mexico

Does Texas have a total abortion ban? Or are there abortion exceptions when it comes to saving the life of the mother? The answer is confusing and conflicting.

Legally there is an abortion exception in Texas when it’s medically necessary to preserve the life and health of the mother. But how this exception is being interpreted by doctors and hospitals across the state reveals this exception frequently is no exception at all.

There are multiple reports of pregnant women in medical crisis being turned away from hospital emergency rooms.

This could help explain why Texas women of reproductive age have significant gaps in knowledge regarding the state's near-total abortion ban.

Also, more than 8 in 10 people are lacking an accurate understanding of what medical exceptions are allowed under the law, according to recently released results of a survey by Austin-based collaborative Resound Research for Reproductive Health.

One-third of the 763 respondents in the poll, or 32%, incorrectly believed that victims of rape and incest can legally get an abortion in Texas. Nearly 25% falsely believed that the abortion ban does not apply to pregnant patients facing fatal fetal diagnoses.

Furthermore, 73% of the survey respondents were unaware that clinics in the state cannot terminate pregnancies, according to the survey results released March 21. And a minority of respondents, or 43%, said they knew it was legal in Texas for pregnant people to get an abortion if they have a life-threatening medical condition.

Since August 2022, when the state's "trigger law" went into effect after the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the constitutional right to an abortion, the procedure has been prohibited in Texas except in cases in which a pregnancy puts a woman at risk of death or "poses a serious risk of substantial impairment of a major bodily function." Physicians who violate the law could face penalties of up to 99 years in prison and fines of more than $100,000 and could lose their medical license.

However there have been several high-profile attempts by Texas women to obtain a medically necessary abortion, only to be turned down by doctors and the courts. For example, Kate Cox's case in late 2023 highlighted the challenges of getting a medically necessary abortion in Texas after the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Cox was pregnant with a fetus diagnosed with a fatal condition. Doctors advised abortion to protect her health and future fertility. Texas law has a narrow exception for abortions when the mother's life is at risk. The ambiguity around what constitutes "life-threatening" made it difficult for doctors to proceed. Cox filed a lawsuit seeking permission for an abortion. The case went through the court system while she faced health risks from the non-viable pregnancy.

Ultimately, Cox left the state for her abortion before the Texas Supreme Court issued a final ruling. The court eventually stated the doctor could decide in such situations.

This case exposed the limitations and confusion surrounding on legal abortion access in Texas, even for medically necessary procedures.

Laura Molinar is the founder and executive director of Sueños Sin Fronteras of Texas, a grassroots collective that focuses on the intersections of immigrant justice and reproductive health and justice in South Texas.

Andrea Grimes is an Austin-based writer, editor, and activist who covers the politics of reproductive health, rights, and justice. She publishes "Hard to Believe It’s Only Tuesday,” a weekly newsletter roundup of the latest abortion news, takes, and action items, and has written for The Nation magazine, MSNBC, and elsewhere.

"The Source" is a live call-in program airing Mondays through Thursdays from 12-1 p.m. Leave a message before the program at (210) 615-8982. During the live show, call833-877-8255, email thesource@tpr.org.

*This interview will be recorded on Tuesday, April 23, 2024.

Stay Connected
David Martin Davies can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org and on Twitter at @DavidMartinDavi