After moving to Texas and getting engaged, Kimberly Manzano, 34, and her now-husband, 35, started trying to get pregnant in April 2022, hoping to share happy news with their friends and family at their wedding just a few months later.
Although the couple didn’t find out they were pregnant until November 2022 — two months after their wedding — Manzano said they were excited.
That excitement turned to devastation not long after when she suffered a miscarriage.
“After meeting with our OB and knowing that everything was fine after the passing of the miscarriage, we wanted to try again,” Manzano told ABC News. “So we were super excited when we found out in January — just a couple months later — that I was pregnant.”
But, again Manzano said she was experiencing troubling symptoms from the beginning of her pregnancy leading up to when she made the difficult decision to travel to New Mexico for abortion care she was not offered in Texas, despite the “little to no chance her baby would survive more than a couple of days,” if she was even able to carry to term, according to an amended lawsuit.
Manzano is one of seven additional women who joined a lawsuit this week against Texas arguing they were denied abortions despite having dangerous pregnancy complications. This brings the total number of plaintiffs in the suit to 22, of which 20 are women impacted by the bans and two are physicians suing on behalf of themselves and their patients.
The suit, first filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights in March, was the first to be filed by women impacted by abortion bans since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year, ending federal protections for abortion rights.
Texas has multiple overlapping abortion bans in place, including a trigger ban that went into effect in August 2022, prohibiting abortions at nearly all stages of pregnancy and making it a felony to provide the procedure.
Another ban, called SB 8 – which went into effect in September 2021 – allows private citizens to bring civil suits if they “reasonably believed” that person performed an abortion or assisted someone with getting one. The ban also imposes severe criminal penalties including up to life in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
Complications throughout the pregnancy
Manzano first grew concerned when she started experiencing sharp pain in her upper abdomen and said she was afraid she was miscarrying again. But when she and her husband went to the emergency room, Manzano was told she had bleeding between her uterine wall and the fetus’s amniotic sac.
Emergency staff recommended Manzano follow up with her OB-GYN. A sonogram showed there was an irregular growth on the fetus’ spine, so Manzano was referred to a maternal-fetal medicine specialist at 10 weeks.
The MFM said he believed the fetus had amniotic band syndrome, which occurs when the inner lining of the amniotic sac is damaged during pregnancy, creating strings of tissue — or bands — that wrap around different parts of the body and prevent the fetus from growing normally.
“We couldn’t see anything from the right femur down so there was no limb from basically the right knee down,” Manzano said.
A second MFM confirmed organs were outside the body and that a limb was missing but recommended an MRI to determine whether the pregnancy was viable. In the midst of this, she learned she was having a son.
The scan at 20 weeks confirmed the fetus’s spinal cord hadn’t closed so spinal fluid was leaking. Genitalia had not developed and the fetus was missing a bladder and a kidney. There was also an abdominal wall defect from the cord to the pelvic area. If she carried to term, the baby could be stillborn.
Continuing the pregnancy was also a risk to Manzano because the fetus’ urine was leaking into her uterus, which could lead to an infection.
“We sat in that room and … our hearts broke,” Manzano said. “We held on to every hope. We waited at every appointment. We sought second opinions, we sought pediatric surgeons. We did everything we could.”
Traveling for an abortion
Although Manzano’s health was at risk by continuing the pregnancy, she did not qualify for an abortion under Texas’ exceptions because her life was not in danger. Additionally, the law has no exceptions for fatal fetal anomalies.
The MFM told them that because of Texas laws, there was nothing that he could do and referred the couple to a clinic in New Mexico.
“He basically said that my hands are tied,” Manzano said. “There’s nothing more I can do. But he told my husband, ‘If you and Kimberly decide to terminate the pregnancy, I cannot do it. But I do have a clinic that used to be here in Dallas so that’s now strictly in New Mexico. We can refer you to them.'”
Manzano is a Christian so she said she prayed with her husband and pastor about it, spoke to family and friends and made the decision to travel to New Mexico for an abortion.
Prior to this experience, Manzano had considered herself anti-abortion. However, she said her views have since changed. She even stopped donating to anti-abortion groups, according to the lawsuit.
Before the abortion, she said she remembered reading the story of Lauren Miller, one of the original plaintiffs in the CRR lawsuit and another Texan. Miller, who became pregnant with twins last year, said she had to travel out of state to get care to save her life and the life of one of the unborn twins after she learned the other was not viable.
“I’ve always claimed to be such a big Christian but who am I to judge these women?” Manzano said. “And I think that’s when it all came together that my mind changed. I took a couple of weeks off, I went back to work and I remembered Lauren [Miller]’s story and I was like, ‘Where did I see this? Where did I see this story?'”
Miller, another plaintiff in the lawsuit, was pregnant with twins when one of the babies received a diagnosis of trisomy 18 and several abnormalities and was unlikely to survive birth. The pregnancy posed a risk to her health and the health of the other twin so she traveled out of state to receive care.
Manzano then contacted the CRR and joined the lawsuit.
Lawsuit goes before state Supreme Court
The lawsuit is asking a judge to temporarily and permanently suspend the Texas law due to the uncertainty surrounding the meaning of the exception in the state’s abortion bans. The suit also alleged the abortion bans have caused and threaten to cause irreparable injury to all the plaintiffs involved.
The CRR lawyers will appear before the Texas Supreme Court on Nov. 28, where the court will determine whether it will allow a preliminary injunction on the bans when it comes to pregnancies that pose a risk to a mother’s health or pregnancies with fatal fetal anomalies, according to Nick Kabat, staff attorney with the CRR.
The court will also issue a ruling on the state’s attempt to have the lawsuit thrown out. If it denies the state’s request to dismiss the case – in whole or in part – then the lawsuit will return to the district court for litigation, according to Kabat. From there, it could take months or a year for the case to be litigated.
“There is the possibility that the Texas Supreme Court will side with the state and rule that the only relief pregnant people in Texas have is to go ask their Texas legislators for a change. In that case, it wouldn’t return [the case to district court] and we have to pursue other avenues,” Kabat told ABC News.
Kabat said the CRR does not currently have plans to add any more women as plaintiffs in its challenge of Texas’ abortion bans, but said it would be willing to add more women to the suit who have been impacted by the bans.
In September, the CRR announced legal action in three states where women were denied care despite having dangerous pregnancy complications. Kabat also said the CRR is aware of stories of women in other states who have been impacted by bans, but did not reveal any plans for more lawsuits.
“We’re talking to women on the ground and considering our ability to file a lawsuit in another state,” he said. “At the moment, we have our cases going in Texas, in Tennessee, in Idaho, as well as our cases in a bunch of other states that are not specifically focused on medical exemptions and we’ll keep exploring the ability to expand the strategy.”
Manzano said she still wants to have children so she and her husband are undergoing IVF treatment. She hopes her story brings awareness about how far Texas women often have to travel for reproductive health care
“You shouldn’t have to travel for basic health care,” she said. “Women’s health care is basic health care and no one should ever have to travel or feel criminalized for basic treatment. My family deserved better, my son’s life deserved better. and I just hope that Texas can do better.”