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Texas judge grants woman emergency abortion despite state ban

Members of press gather at Texas State Capitol to hear about the case filed by Center for Reproductive Rights on behalf of Texans harmed by the state’s abortion ban on March 7 in Austin, Texas.  (Rick Kern)
By Pradnya Joshi Washington Post

A judge in Texas is allowing a woman who is 20 weeks pregnant to get an abortion in a rare case of a pregnant woman seeking a court order for the procedure since Roe v. Wade was overturned by the Supreme Court last year.

The case involves Kate Cox, a 31-year-old mother of two from the Dallas area, who asked the nonprofit Center for Reproductive Rights for legal help in obtaining an emergency abortion in Texas after she learned last week that her fetus had trisomy 18, also called Edwards syndrome. The genetic condition is one “that cannot sustain life,” as Cox wrote in an op-ed on Wednesday in the Dallas Morning News.

Cox’s doctor warned that carrying the pregnancy to term could jeopardize her health and future fertility, including uterine rupture and hysterectomy, according to the lawsuit filed on her behalf.

Travis County District Judge Maya Guerra Gamble, an elected Democrat, said Thursday that she would grant a temporary restraining order that would allow Cox to have an abortion under the narrow exceptions to the state’s ban.

“The Court finds that Ms. Cox’s life, health, and fertility are currently at serious risk,” the judge wrote in her ruling. “The longer Ms. Cox stays pregnant, the greater the risks to her life.”

The Texas attorney general, Ken Paxton, threatened legal action if the abortion takes place. In a letter addressed to the hospitals involved with Cox’s care, Paxton said that Cox’s doctor did not meet “all of the elements necessary to fall within an exception to Texas’ abortion laws” and that the judge was “not medically qualified to make this determination.”

Paxton said the judge’s order would not excuse the hospital or doctor from civil or criminal liability “including first degree felony prosecutions.” He added that the temporary restraining order “will expire long before the statute of limitations for violating Texas’ abortion laws expires.”

“An abortion was not something I ever imagined I would want or need; I just never thought I’d be in the situation I’m in right now,” Cox wrote in the opinion piece. “Twenty weeks pregnant with a baby that won’t survive and could jeopardize my health and a future pregnancy.”

Texas has several laws restricting or banning abortion, although the state has some narrow exceptions including “substantial impairment of major bodily function” of a pregnant person, according to the Texas Tribune.

The suit is not related to a separate, broader case, Zurawski v. State of Texas, in which five women who had been pregnant sued the state over its near-total abortion ban. The women have claimed that state law denied them proper obstetrics health care and placed their lives in danger.

Four of the women traveled out of state to have abortions; the fifth, whose fetus did not have a chance of surviving, was allowed to deliver only after she became septic, leaving her with permanent physical damage. The case now involves 20 women and the Texas state Supreme Court held a hearing on the matter last week.

Molly Duane, senior staff attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in an online news briefing that she would not comment on when or where Cox would proceed with an abortion, but she hoped that it could help other women in similar situations.

“We are hopeful that this case and the Zurawski case will lead to more people being able to access the necessary abortion care that they need,” Duane said. “The issues are quite clearly overlapping.”