Scroll To Top

Texas Supreme Court Rules Against Pregnant Woman Seeking Abortion Who Had to Flee the State for One

abortion rights protest

Texas as a near ban on abortion, except for medical emergencies. Kate Cox sought an abortion after being informed her fetus had a fatal condition, which could also affect her.

By Ashley Killough and Ed Lavandera, CNN

(CNN) — The Texas Supreme Court on Monday reversed a lower court’s ruling that would have allowed a woman to obtain an abortion under the state’s “medical emergency” exception, hours after the woman’s attorneys said she had left the state to have the procedure.

Kate Cox sought the abortion after learning her fetus has a fatal condition and doctors told her she could risk her future fertility if she doesn’t get the procedure. A state judge ruled last week that Cox, who is 21 weeks pregnant, could terminate her pregnancy — but the Texas Supreme Court temporarily put that ruling on hold late Friday.

On Monday, the Center for Reproductive Rights, which represents Cox, announced that the 31-year-old mother had left the state to get health care elsewhere, following what the group described as “a week of legal whiplash.”

Then, hours later, the state’s high court ruled against her.

The ruling calls into question whether this decision could deter women in similar situations from seeking a court-authorized abortion.

The center did not disclose more details about Cox’s plans, but its statement said Cox received “offers to help her access abortion elsewhere, from Kansas to Colorado to Canada.”

Cox’s attorney said she wants her care “the fastest way” possible.

Caught in a ‘legal limbo’

On Thursday, a state district court judge sided with Cox and granted a temporary restraining order against the state so she could legally have an abortion under the state’s “medical emergency” exception. Texas has a nearly complete abortion ban with narrow exceptions.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton quickly threatened criminal prosecution against doctors or hospitals who help facilitate the abortion, saying they could still face charges after the 14-day temporary restraining order expires.

Late Friday night, the high court temporarily blocked Cox from obtaining an abortion while it reviews the case and has not issued a decision since then.

A court filing over the weekend supports the Republican attorney general’s petition for the Texas Supreme Court to intervene.

CNN has reached out to Paxton’s office for comment.

“This past week of legal limbo has been hellish for Kate,” Nancy Northup, president and CEO at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement. “Her health is on the line. She’s been in and out of the emergency room and she couldn’t wait any longer.

“This is why judges and politicians should not be making health care decisions for pregnant people—they are not doctors.”

The ‘medical emergency’ exception

Cox’s lawsuit is believed to be one of the first attempts in the country by an individual seeking a court-ordered abortion since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year, according to the New York Times.

The “medical emergency” exception in Texas allows for an abortion if the mother has a “life-threatening” physical condition while pregnant or has “a serious risk of substantial impairment of a major bodily function.”

Critics argue the statute is too vague and has a chilling effect on doctors who fear criminal prosecution.

The same legal group representing Cox – the Center for Reproductive Rights – is also representing a group of women and physicians before the Texas Supreme Court in a lawsuit seeking clarity. The state argues the law is adequate.

Texas Supreme Court rules

In its ruling late Monday, the Texas Supreme Court – comprised of nine Republicans – called on the state’s medical board to provide more guidance on the “medical emergency” exception that’s at the heart of Cox’s case.

The high court also released an opinion, saying it should be up to doctors – not judges – to decide whether to provide an abortion. It said Cox’s doctor did not establish or attest that Cox’s symptoms were life-threatening.

“No one disputes that Ms. Cox’s pregnancy has been extremely complicated. Any parents would be devastated to learn of their unborn (fatal condition) diagnosis. Some difficulties in pregnancy, however, even serious ones, do not pose the heightened risks to the mother the exception encompasses,” the opinion states.

“The exception requires a doctor to decide whether Ms. Cox’s difficulties pose such risks,” the ruling continues. “(A doctor) asked a court to pre-authorize the abortion yet she could not, or at least did not, attest to the court that Ms. Cox’s condition poses the risks the exception requires.”

A separate case is still pending before the Texas Supreme Court seeking clarity on the “medical emergency” exception. Notably, in its opinion, the court called on the Texas Medical Board to provide further guidance on the law.

“The courts cannot go further by entering into the medical-judgment arena. The Texas Medical Board, however, can do more to provide guidance in response to any confusion that currently prevails,” the opinion states. “Each of the three branches of government has a distinct role, and while the judiciary cannot compel executive branch entities to do their part, it is obvious that the legal process works more smoothly when they do.”

Fears for woman’s health and future fertility

Cox’s attorney said she has been to the emergency room four times in the last month due to symptoms like severe cramping, diarrhea, leaking of fluid and elevated vital signs.

And because she’s already delivered two children via C-section, her physicians have warned she is at high risk for complications, including possible uterine rupture in future pregnancies.

According to her attorneys, this pregnancy would need to be delivered via another C-section, which Cox fears could jeopardize her health and future fertility.

Additionally, the fetus has Trisomy 18, sometimes called Edwards syndrome, which is a fatal genetic condition that can cause heart defects and other organ abnormalities. In at least 95% of cases, fetuses don’t survive full term, so pregnancies can end in miscarriage or stillbirth, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Paxton argued Cox has not established her symptoms as to meet the “life-threatening” criteria in the law.

The filing from his office stated Cox inquired about getting an abortion only after learning her fetus might not survive the pregnancy or long afterward and already knew she might need another C-section before her current pregnancy.

“Plaintiffs plead no facts linking Ms. Cox’s physical condition related to the birth of this child to the loss of fertility. Instead, it appears she will face the same risks regarding the birth of any future child,” the filing states.

State says doctor’s opinion ‘is not enough’

As his office has done in the broader case on this issue before the state Supreme Court, Paxton’s attorneys also argued “a fatal fetal condition does not meet the medical exception,” adding the exception applies only to the mother’s condition.

Paxton’s office also said none of the physicians who have treated Cox, who live in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, have recommended an abortion.

Dr. Damla Karsan, a Houston-based physician, a plaintiff in the other case, is cited in legal filings as having reviewed Cox’s medical records, recommended the abortion, and agreed to provide the medical care.

The state wrote in the filing Karsan’s recommendation “is not enough.”

“What he’s (Paxton) saying is that physicians in Texas shouldn’t be practicing medicine.” Duane said. “Ken Paxton is practicing medicine – because that’s what he wants – he wants to review her medical records. He wants to decide if he thinks she’s sick enough.

“When people tout the medical exceptions to abortion bans as meaning that the abortion bans are OK, and that people who really need care are still getting it, that’s a lie.”

The case shows why “it is completely untenable for patients to have to come to court and ask for court authorization for lifesaving medical care,” she said. “It’s simply outrageous and people should be outraged but what is happening in Texas right now.”

This is a developing story and will be updated.

™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

From our Sponsors

Most Popular

Latest Stories