SXSW Panel Explores the Health Care Crisis in a Post-Roe America

Left-right: Elizabeth Monteleone, Nancy Northup, Samantha Casiano, Amanda Zurawski and moderator Andrea Valdez from The Atlantic (Photo by Naina Srivastava)

At 18-weeks pregnant, Amanda Zurawski developed a condition called cervical insufficiency and was told the baby she “desperately wanted” would not survive birth. But since the baby’s heart was still beating, Texas laws banned Zurawski from getting an abortion.

Zurawski went into septic shock twice before she was considered “sick enough,” she said. Shortly after she was discharged, she and her husband decided to take legal action against the state and attorney general with the help of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “We had talked about how this was going to impact so many people, not just in Texas but in other states with similar bans,” Zurawski said during a SXSW panel. “We wanted to warn people and educate them.”

In Texas, you’re supposed to be granted access to abortion care if your life is at risk. But that doesn’t happen, said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. She said that’s because laws are vague and there’s a “draconian” 99-year sentence for doctors who help patients receive abortions. “Clearly Texas does not want there to be any access to abortion care because they are fighting every attempt we have to get clarity on the law,” Northup said.

Samantha Casiano, another plaintiff in Zurawski v. State of Texas, was told her baby was incompatible with life because its skull would never fully develop. Casiano carried the baby to term, which she described as difficult emotionally, mentally, and physically.

Since telling her story, Casiano said she’s received support from friends, family and colleagues. Her mother, who previously saw abortion as a “no-go,” now holds the firm belief that abortion is health care. “I have some family that have chosen to no longer speak to me,” Casiano said. “To them, I’m a disappointment. But ultimately, I have to do what’s right for my family and this is it.”

Bumble Inc., the parent company of dating app Bumble, filed an amicus brief with the lawsuit. Elizabeth Monteleone, the company’s interim general counsel said that as a woman-founded and woman-led company, equality has been central to Bumble’s mission. “We’ve always supported reproductive rights,” Monteleone said. “Throughout the years as we’ve seen these continued attacks on women, our voice in that support has gotten stronger.”

The brief argues that Texas’ anti-abortion laws also affect businesses. Monteleone cited increased costs to “attract and retain talent” in Texas and provide health care benefits to employees.

Since Senate Bill 8, which bans abortions as early as five weeks after the start of an individual’s menstrual cycle, Bumble (which is headquartered in Austin) has seen a reduction in its Texas workforce by a third as employees choose to move elsewhere, Monteleone said.

Despite restrictive laws, Zurawski and Casiano said they’ve never seriously considered leaving the state. “It’s unfair for us to make that move,” Casiano said. “To move our whole family out because of them is almost like running away. I want to stand here and fight.”

Featured Session: Health Care Crisis in Post-Roe America: Finding Your Voice

Health & MedTech track sponsored by Johnson & Johnson

Friday, March 8, 2:30pm, Austin Convention Center, Ballroom AS

Catch up with all of The Austin Chronicle‘s SXSW 2024 coverage.