AUSTIN, Texas – Samantha Casiano, who gave birth to a baby who lived just four hours, broke down and became physically ill on the witness stand as she told the story of her doomed pregnancy in an Austin, Texas, courtroom on Wednesday. Her husband, Luis Villasana, rushed to the front of the courtroom to help her, during a hearing in a case challenging the abortion bans in Texas.
Casiano was one of three women who gave dramatic testimony about their pregnancies in a hushed and spellbound courtroom in the case brought by the Center for Reproductive Rights. The case, on behalf of 13 patients and two doctors, argues that the medical exceptions to Texas’ laws are unclear and unworkable for doctors in ways that harm patients. They also say that the state has done nothing to clarify its laws.
The case is thought to be the first time the experiences of women have been heard in open court since the Supreme Court ended the constitutional right to abortion last June.
In Wednesday’s proceeding, which will continue on Thursday, lawyers for Casiano and the other plaintiffs asked the judge to temporarily suspend the bans for people who have medical complications in their pregnancies as the case proceeds. State Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office is asking for the case to be dismissed.
The benches in the roomy, brand new courtroom at the Travis County Civil District Court were filled with reporters, plaintiffs, and their supporters, including several husbands. Members of the anti-abortion rights group Texas Alliance for Life were also in attendance.
During hours of emotional testimony, the courtroom felt tense and quiet. Casiano, who first told her story to NPR in April, was so overcome as she described her experiences she cried, coughed, and gagged in the witness box. The court was adjourned for a recess at that point.
When it was back in session, Casiano described what it was like to give birth to the daughter they named Halo. “She was gasping for air,” Casiano said. “I just kept telling myself and my baby that I’m so sorry that this has happened to you. I felt so bad. She had no mercy. There was no mercy there for her.”
People in the courtroom wept as Casiano spoke, including an attorney for the state of Texas.
The other women with complicated pregnancies who testified were Amanda Zurawski and Ashley Brandt. Both cried on the stand as they described extremely intimate details of their health and their ordeals losing wanted pregnancies.
Brandt was able to travel out of Texas to receive a selective reduction for a twin whose skull had not developed properly. Zurawski’s water broke too early, but she was denied induction or abortion. She went into septic shock and was in the intensive care unit for three days.