A Texas judge ruled Thursday that a pregnant woman in Dallas can get the abortion she requested through an unprecedented emergency legal petition filed Tuesday.
Kate Cox, a 31-year-old mother of two, had filed a request for a temporary restraining order that would allow her physician to get around the state’s severely restrictive abortion laws.
Molly Duane, a senior staff attorney with the Center for Reproductive Rights, which helped file the case, confirmed to reporters that the order “does allow her abortion to proceed.” Duane declined to give any more information about when or where Cox would seek to terminate her pregnancy, citing safety concerns for everyone involved in the procedure.
The judge’s decision may still be appealed by the state, which has been aggressively defending its abortion laws. But there is no obvious avenue in which to appeal, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton responded Thursday afternoon with a cryptic statement saying the decision “will not insulate hospitals, doctors, or anyone else, from civil and criminal liability for violating Texas’ abortion laws.” Paxton also sent a letter to the hospital that employs Cox’s physician, Dr. Damla Karsan, hinting at legal action.
Cox is 20 weeks pregnant. Her fetus has a fatal genetic anomaly called trisomy 18 and, if she remains pregnant, Cox could face deadly complications or lose the ability to have more children in the future, according to her complaint. She was also experiencing pain during the pregnancy.
“It is not a matter of if I will have to say goodbye, but when,” Cox said in a statement included in her complaint.
I do not want to continue the pain and suffering that has plagued this pregnancy. I do not want to put my body through the risks of continuing this pregnancy. I do not want to continue until my baby dies in my belly or I have to deliver a stillborn baby or one where life will be measured in hours or days, full of medical tubes and machinery. Trisomy 18 babies that survive birth often suffer cardiac or respiratory failure. I do not want my baby to arrive in this world only to watch her suffer a heart attack or suffocation. I desperately want the chance to try for another baby and want to access the medical care now that gives me the best chance at another baby.
District Judge Maya Guerra Gamble said while issuing her ruling that “the idea that Ms. Cox wants so desperately to be a parent and this law may have her lose that ability is shocking and would be a genuine miscarriage of justice.” The judge is a Democrat first elected to her position in 2018.
The temporary restraining order only applies to Cox’s current pregnancy, and only for a period of 14 days, Duane told reporters.
A separate case challenging Texas abortion laws is currently working its way through the state court system, brought by 20 women who say they were denied appropriate abortion care, but it could take weeks or months to resolve. That case, Zurawski v. Texas, seeks to clarify exactly in what circumstances doctors may terminate pregnancies.
Texas bans nearly all abortions, with limited exceptions to address the life of the mother. The state’s conservative leaders say the law is sufficient, but medical professionals argue that the language is so vague that it prevents them from providing care in all but the most life-or-death situations out of fear of reprisal. Penalties for breaking the law include prison, steep fines and the loss of medical licenses.
Gamble wrote in her order that Cox’s current circumstances met the medical exemption under Texas law.
Paxton, who called Gamble an “activist” in his statement after the decision, had argued that Cox did not meet the requirements, saying her life was not yet sufficiently endangered. He said Gamble was “not medically qualified” to decide that Cox needed an abortion, and that “a [temporary restraining order] is no substitute for medical judgment,” despite the recommendation by Cox’s physician.
The attorney general also claimed that Cox was “enjoying a sunny vacation in Florida,” not at home in Texas, and thus lacked standing, on the basis that an online notary service used to file the case was based in Florida.
Duane said Paxton’s response to Cox made clear that state leaders “do not care if people live or die, so long as they are forced to give birth.”
Obtaining a temporary restraining order is an extreme solution to the problem of needing an abortion in Texas.
Lawyers for the Center for Reproductive Rights said in a press conference that they do not see it as a “realistic” option for people who are pregnant in Texas and do not wish to be.
“Doctors need to be able to practice medicine,” Duane said. “They need to be able to exercise their best judgment and not have the attorney general second-guess their decisions.”
She added, “I certainly wouldn’t want my doctor sitting around waiting for a court to decide whether she could save my life.”