Texas Supreme Court blocks approved emergency abortion for risky pregnancy

Austin, Texas - The Supreme Court of Texas late Friday temporarily blocked an emergency abortion for a woman whose fetus was determined to be not viable, in a closely watched case underlining the legal perils facing both doctors and patients when it comes to the procedure.

On Friday, the Supreme Court of Texas temporarily blocked an emergency abortion for a woman whose fetus was determined to not be viable.
On Friday, the Supreme Court of Texas temporarily blocked an emergency abortion for a woman whose fetus was determined to not be viable.  © SUZANNE CORDEIRO / AFP

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton petitioned the high court to block Kate Cox, a 31-year-old mother of two, from terminating her pregnancy after a district judge ruled a woman with a potentially life-threatening pregnancy could obtain an abortion.

Texas has some of the strictest abortion laws in the nation, prohibiting it even in cases of rape or incest.

District Judge Maya Guerra Gamble on Thursday said that Cox, who is 20 weeks pregnant, should be permitted to have an abortion under a medical exception provision of the Texas law that allows the procedure when a woman's health is at risk.

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But Paxton, a conservative Republican, objected to the finding, saying the "activist" judge's order does "not insulate hospitals, doctors or anyone else, from civil and criminal liability for violating Texas' abortion laws."

The Texas Supreme Court ordered a stay late Friday, according to a copy of the ruling released by Cox's lawyers, temporarily halting the district court's decision.

CNN, the Houston Chronicle, and the New York Times reported on the high court ruling.

"While we still hope that the Court ultimately rejects the state's request and does so quickly, in this case, we fear that justice delayed will be justice denied," attorney Molly Duane from the Center for Reproductive Rights, which represented Cox, said in a statement following the high court's stay.

Kate Cox's emergency abortion approval reversed despite health risks

Kate Cox's pregnancy poses risks to her health and future fertility.
Kate Cox's pregnancy poses risks to her health and future fertility.  © SUZANNE CORDEIRO / AFP

"We are talking about urgent medical care. Kate is already 20 weeks pregnant. This is why people should not need to beg for healthcare in a court of law."

The Center for Reproductive Rights said it believed the Texas case was the first in which a woman was asking a court for an emergency abortion since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973.

"All of her doctors have told her that the baby will be stillborn or will live for only minutes, hours, or days," attorney Molly Duane said during the lower court emergency hearing held over Zoom.

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Duane said the pregnancy poses multiple health risks to Cox and her future fertility and falls within the medical exception to Texas's abortion laws.

"In the state's eyes, Ms. Cox simply isn't sick enough, isn't close enough to death, to qualify for the exception," Duane said. "It is clear that the attorney general of Texas thinks he is better suited to practice medicine than the physicians of his state."

Johnathan Stone, an attorney who represented Texas in the hearing, argued that the abortion should not be allowed until a full hearing of the medical evidence is held.

"The abortion, once performed is permanent and cannot be undone," he said.

That was met with a blistering reply from Duane.

"I would just note that the harm to Ms. Cox's life, health, and fertility are very much also permanent and cannot be undone," she said.

Texas abortion restrictions remain unclear

While Texas law does allow abortions in cases where the mother's life is in danger, physicians have said the wording is unclear.
While Texas law does allow abortions in cases where the mother's life is in danger, physicians have said the wording is unclear.  © MARIO TAMA / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / GETTY IMAGES VIA AFP

District Judge Gamble had granted Cox the right to an abortion, saying the risk her pregnancy posed to her fertility was such that blocking the termination would be "a genuine miscarriage of justice."

Marc Hearron, senior counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights, accused Paxton, the attorney general, of "fear-mongering" with his threats of legal action against a doctor or hospital that performs Cox's abortion.

Texas physicians found guilty of providing abortions face up to 99 years in prison, fines of up to $100,000, and the revocation of their medical license.

While the state's law does allow abortions in cases where the mother's life is in danger, physicians have said the wording is unclear, leaving them open to legal consequences.

Texas also has a law that allows private citizens to sue anyone who performs or aids an abortion.

The Texas Supreme Court heard arguments last week in a case brought on behalf of two doctors and 20 women who were denied abortions even though they had serious — in some cases life-threatening — complications with their pregnancies.

The lawsuit argues that the way medical exceptions are defined under the state's abortion restrictions is confusing, stoking fear among doctors and causing a "health crisis."

Cover photo: SUZANNE CORDEIRO / AFP

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