The Texas Supreme Court has temporarily blocked a lower court ruling that would allow a Texas woman to circumvent the state’s abortion ban and receive the procedure without consequence after it was discovered the baby has a fatal health condition.
A state court approved a request from Kate Cox on Friday to obtain an abortion despite the state’s strict restrictions, citing severe health complications for both her and the baby. However, that decision was challenged by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton just hours later, who requested the state Supreme Court to block the ruling and halt Cox from having an abortion.
“Each hour [the ruling] remains in place is an hour that Plaintiffs believe themselves free to perform and procure an elective abortion,” Paxton wrote in his challenge. “Nothing can restore the unborn child’s life that will be lost as a result. Post hoc enforcement is no substitute, so time is of the essence.”
Current state law in Texas bans abortions at any point in a pregnancy with narrow exceptions to protect the health and life of a pregnant woman. Cox initially sought an abortion after her baby was diagnosed with trisomy 18, a fatal health condition, which has caused Cox to be treated in the emergency room several times throughout her pregnancy for pain.
The exception in Texas state law stipulates that if a woman qualifies for an abortion, any medical personnel who assist in the procedure are exempt from prosecution. However, the law’s language is vague, which has caused several doctors to say they are unwilling to perform the procedures in order to avoid punishment.
Paxton issued a separate letter in response to the lower court’s temporary restraining order that directly alludes to that exception, threatening to prosecute any doctor or medical personnel who assist in carrying out Cox’s abortion even with the lower court’s approval.
“The [temporary restraining order] will not insulate you, or anyone else, from civil and criminal liability for violating Texas’ abortion laws,” Paxton wrote to three area hospitals where Dr. Damla Karsan, who intended to perform the procedure, has physician privileges.
Paxton argued the lower court ruling is invalid because decisions on patient eligibility and whether a case could be used as an exception to state law should be left to hospitals rather than courts. The attorney general also accused Karsan of failing to follow the hospital’s procedures to determine whether Cox qualifies for the medical exceptions to receive an abortion under Texas state law as the doctor allegedly did not receive a second opinion from another medical professional.
“Nothing in the TRO compels you to waive your hospital’s long-standing policies for determining whether a patient, including Ms. Cox, qualifies for the medical exception to Texas’ abortion laws,” he wrote.
The Texas Supreme Court responded to Paxton’s request by temporarily stopping the lower court’s decision until its judges can issue a final ruling. The ruling would only apply to Cox and her current pregnancy and would not set a precedent for future challenges to the state abortion ban.
Abortion-rights advocates have pushed back on Paxton’s legal challenges, lamenting that any delay in the court’s decision could result in severe health complications for Cox.
“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,” said Molly Duane, senior staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights, which filed the lawsuit on Cox’s behalf earlier this week. “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.”
A decision in the case could come as soon as this weekend, and it sets the stage for what could become a larger legal battle if the abortion is denied.