Our Abortion Stories: Two Years of Texas’ SB 8

On this grim two-year anniversary, we lift up the stories of Texas women and their families who are fighting for the right to abortion care.

Plaintiffs Damla Karsan, Austin Dennard, Samantha Casiano, Taylor Edwards, Elizabeth Weller and Amanda Zurawski attend a press conference outside the Travis County Courthouse in Austin on July 20, 2023. All are plaintiffs in Zurawski v. State of Texas, a lawsuit filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights on behalf of 13 Texas women denied abortions despite serious pregnancy complications. (Suzanne Cordeiro / AFP via Getty Images)

Last summer, the Supreme Court overturned the longstanding precedents of Roe v. Wade—the first time in history that the Court has taken away a fundamental right—representing the largest blow to women’s constitutional rights in history. In Texas, this has been part of women’s reality for years. 

Two years ago, Texas’ SB 8 became law: the six-week ban with a “bounty hunter” provision. At the time SB 8 took effect, it was considered the most restrictive abortion ban to ever take effect in the U.S. post-Roe.

Today, it’s one of two abortion bans in effect in the state. The second is the Human Life Protection Act, colloquially known as the trigger ban, a total abortion ban which took effect shortly after the fall of Roe. The law makes performing an abortion from the moment of fertilization a felony. Violators of the law face punishments that include life in prison and a civil penalty of not less than $100,000, plus attorney’s fees.

Both laws’ “penalties for violating could not be more severe,” said Molly Duane, senior staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR). Together, these bans have essentially banned abortion “longer than any other state,” she said. 

Duane is counsel on Zurawski v. Texas, a landmark lawsuit filed by CRR that marked the first time in U.S. history that patients directly affected by abortion laws sought to challenge them in court. The lawsuit argued Texas’ abortion bans violate pregnant women’s fundamental human rights and the Texas constitution’s guarantees to life, liberty and equality and the rights of physicians—namely, their rights to pursue their profession without risking loss of liberty. 

A series from Ms., Our Abortion Stories chronicles experiences of abortion pre- and post-Roe. This special edition is dedicated to the women in Texas fighting to reclaim the right to safe and accessible abortion care on this grim two-year anniversary. 

Share your abortion story by emailing myabortionstory@msmagazine.com

Editor’s note: These stories have been excerpted and lightly edited for clarity.

Austin Dennard: ‘I felt like my pregnancy was not my own’

“My husband and I were actively trying to get pregnant and I got a positive pregnancy test in June of 2022. I found out a few days after my missed period. I had a rush of emotions—obviously very excited because we were trying but I was casually optimistic because I had a spontaneous miscarriage a few months before. 

“At the moment, both my children were sharing a nursery and I remember measuring the room to see if we could fit two toddler beds and a crib.

“I remember hearing the heartbeat and feeling immediate relief. And then the room got quiet and I noticed that the sonographer was looking very closely at the cranium of the pregnancy. I immediately realized that there was something catastrophically wrong. The mother in me was hoping that the physician in me was second-guessing what I saw. I knew then that this was not going to be a brother or sister for my children.”

Dennard was correct. Her fetus was diagnosed with anencephaly—a fatal defect where the fetus is born without parts of its brain and skull.

“I was devastated. We were trying so hard, hoping and praying for another baby. I realized that this pregnancy wasn’t going to end in another little blonde toddler running around my house. The more pragmatic part of me started immediately thinking, This is really bad, I need another abortion, we are going to have to leave Texas and how are we going to do that?

“I knew it was an extremely high-risk pregnancy, a lethal anomaly, with no chance of survival and each day I remain pregnant, my physical life is more and more at risk of uterine distention, hemorrhage, infection, abruption, sepsis and more. Not to mention that my mental and emotional health was more and more at risk.

“We decided that continuing the pregnancy was just putting myself at significant risk so we decided to travel out of state so I could receive the standard medical care.

“I felt like my pregnancy was not my own, that it belonged to the state because I no longer had a choice about what I could do. I felt abandoned. I couldn’t believe that after spending my entire life in the state, being a 6th generation Texan, practicing medicine in the state, they had completely turned their back on me. The grief never goes away.”

“Every abortion ban creates a human rights tragedy,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, president and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, a network of women’s health clinics that was founded in Texas. But with SB 8, Texas achieved something no other state had: the banning of abortion at just six weeks gestation—making it (at the time) the most extreme abortion ban to take effect in the U.S. since abortion was legalized in 1973.

The conservative majority on the Supreme Court repeatedly allowed the law to remain in effect—despite lawsuits from plaintiffs ranging from the Department of Justice to on-the-ground abortion providers, and its direct opposition to the 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade (SB 8 took effect nine months before Roe fell), as well as the 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which reaffirmed Roe.

Amanda Zurawski: ‘I was in septic shock’

My doctor had to reconstruct my uterus because it had collapsed, and my right fallopian tube is still closed. It’s disgusting and ironic—do they not realize that the reason why I might not be able to get pregnant again is because of what happened to me as a result of the laws that they support?

“We started trying about a year after we got married but faced many challenges getting pregnant. We learned quickly that I don’t ovulate so it took several rounds of fertility treatments and assisted reproductive healthcare. When I found out I was pregnant I was in shock at first because it had been such a long road—we just couldn’t believe it! But we were just over the moon excited.

“I was 17 weeks and six days pregnant when I experienced what I thought was discharge from the inside of my leg. I know now that it was my amniotic fluid leaking. I contacted my doctor and while I waited to hear back from her, I went for a walk. The only way I can describe the feeling was that my body was wider than it should be. My doctor had me come in and she told me I had a condition called incompetent cervix, which is essentially premature dilation.

“The first thing I asked was, What we could do, what could be done? She said, Unfortunately, miscarriage was inevitable—we were certainly going to lose our daughter. Because of the laws that had gone into effect in Texas that same week, she couldn’t intervene because the baby’s heart was still beating. Inducing labor would have been considered an illegal abortion. The only other way she could have intervened was if I was considered sick enough that my life was at risk. But until one of those three things changed …

“When we went back to the hospital, I was in septic shock. My vitals crashed again shortly after delivery. My blood pressure dropped extremely low and I was transferred to the ICU for about three days. There was so much scarring that they couldn’t detect any of my soft tissue on reproductive organs. My doctor had to reconstruct my uterus because it had collapsed, and my right fallopian tube is still closed.

“I think it’s disgusting and ironic—do they not realize that the reason why I might not be able to get pregnant again is because of what happened to me as a result of the laws that they support? And anybody who’s been through infertility will tell you it is the most isolating, grueling, lonely, difficult thing a person can go through. I think it very succinctly illustrates how the state doesn’t care about the lives of their constituents, especially pregnant people.”

Samantha Casiano: ‘I felt like I was abandoned’

I have a daughter and it makes me sick to my stomach to think that one day she might have to go through what I went through.

“I learned that I was pregnant around September last year. We were definitely surprised, very shocked, but also very excited. We were hoping for a girl.

“At my 20-week ultrasound we were chatting normally, about what we were hoping to have, and all of a sudden the room went cold, it got quiet, it felt like it was dark. Then another tech comes in, she checks my belly and says, I’m sorry—my daughter was diagnosed with anencephaly. My first thoughts were maybe it’ll be a surgery, maybe she could be fixed. But then she said, I’m sorry but your daughter is incompatible with life—she will pass away before or soon after birth. I felt cold, I was hurt, I wished that I was dreaming. I know I wasn’t. I just felt lost.

“After the scan, they told me to go see my OB. They brought in a caseworker and they handed me a paper for funeral homes.

“I felt like I was abandoned—I didn’t know how to deal with the situation. I couldn’t go out of state to get an abortion—I couldn’t do it alone. I was scared and I have children and I thought, I can’t go to jail. I can’t get this fine. How would I pay for that? I could lose my job. It felt like I had no options. 

Texas’ SB 8 has a unique twist when compared to former iterations: It allows private citizens (a relative, an abusive partner, a stranger, an anti-abortion extremist) to sue anyone who helps someone get an abortion after six weeks, and awards people who bring lawsuits $10,000 if they succeed. This provision makes it particularly hard to file lawsuits to block it, since it encourages private lawsuits rather than action from state officials. Of course, Texas lawmakers specifically designed it this way.

“The state has put a bounty on the head of any person or entity who so much as gives a patient money for an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, before most people know they are pregnant,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “Worse, it will intimidate loved ones from providing support for fear of being sued.”

“When I gave birth I had to watch my daughter go from being pink, to red to purple, from warm to cold. Her eyeballs being regular to things just popping in there, bleeding. I had to watch my baby suffer. I decided the only way I can save my eggs from that harm and myself from that pain and going through that torture would be to get my tubes removed. 

“I have a daughter and it makes me sick to my stomach to think that one day she might have to go through what I went through.”

Samantha Casiano

Ashley Brandt: ‘I don’t feel safe to have children in Texas anymore’

“At the beginning of May, at six weeks, I scheduled a private ultrasound. I actually went into that very nervous that I would get bad news. But I ended up leaving and finding out that I was having twins. It was really exciting. We had settled on three kids. I’m one of the three, he’s one of three—three makes sense to us. It was exciting to know that by the end of the year, our little family would be complete. 

“After my third ultrasound, everything looked good from my perspective—both babies were measuring great, it was almost like they were cuddling in there. But when I went back into the exam room for my OB to go over the findings she said, we suspect twin A has a condition called acrania. She explained her skull was not fused and it left her brain tissue exposed to the amniotic fluid.

My first question was, What is the survival rate? She told me it was not compatible with life and 100 percent fatal. My second question was, What does this mean for my healthy twin? She referred me to a maternal fetal medicine (MFM) specialist and I asked, What about fetal reduction?

A fetal reduction is a procedure that reduces the number of fetuses in a single pregnancy. 

“She let me know that it is considered an abortion—it is illegal in Texas. She also let me know that if I would like to seek a second opinion out of state that was my right. I had already been in contact with an MFM in Colorado.

“If I had not gone out of state and had just done what was legal in Texas, my daughter Marley would most likely be in the NICU because she would have been born before 37 weeks. All my ultrasounds up to labor, I would have had to watch twin A deteriorate more and more every week.

“I would have had to give birth to an identical version of my daughter without a skull and without a brain and hold her until she died. Then I would have had to submit a death certificate and plan a funeral and decide if I wanted to bury her or cremate her. It just would have been heartbreaking. But instead I got to just give birth to my healthy daughter.

“I don’t feel safe to have children in Texas anymore. I know that it was very clear that my health didn’t really matter, that my daughter’s health didn’t really matter, which was really heartbreaking.”

Judge Jessica Mangrum ruled in favor of the 15 plaintiffs suing Texas for the state’s abortion bans, most of whom almost died during pregnancy due to grave complications. Mangrum’s ruling granted a temporary injunction to block Texas’ abortion bans, but only as they apply to severe pregnancy complications, including life-threatening fetal diagnoses. The ruling says that doctors can use their own “good faith judgment” to determine when to offer abortion care, without fear of prosecution. Mangrum also ruled that SB 8 is unconstitutional. The ruling is the first blow to the law since it took effect.

The narrow victory was short-lived, as the state of Texas immediately appealed the ruling to the Texas supreme court. According to Texas state law, as soon as an appeal is filed, a ruling is stayed.

Still, CRR and the plaintiffs celebrated the decision. “This is exactly why we did this,” said Zurawski, the lead plaintiff. “This is why we put ourselves through the pain and the trauma over and over again to share our experiences and the harms caused by these awful laws.”

Share your story with Ms. by emailing myabortionstory@msmagazine.com.

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About and

Val Diez Canseco is a Ms. editorial intern and a sophomore at Tulane University studying international relations and English. She is passionate about reproductive rights and health access, political frameworks in the Global South, and legal processes and systems. You can follow more of her work here.
Roxanne Szal (or Roxy) is the managing digital editor at Ms. and a producer on the Ms. podcast On the Issues With Michele Goodwin. She is also a mentor editor for The OpEd Project. Before becoming a journalist, she was a Texas public school English teacher. She is based in Austin, Texas. Find her on Twitter @roxyszal.