Updated Dec 9, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Texas judge allows woman’s emergency abortion, but higher court temporarily halts it

Travis County District Court on Dec. 7, the day of the emergency abortion ruling. Photo: Suzanne Cordeiro/Getty Images

A Texas woman was granted permission on Thursday to receive an emergency abortion despite a restrictive abortion ban that went into effect after Roe v. Wade was overturned last June.

Why it matters: The ruling, in response to an emergency lawsuit, carves out a notable exception to the ban, but an impending ruling in the Texas Supreme Court will determine future cases.

  • The woman, Kate Cox, her husband, Justin Cox and her doctor, Damla Karsan, are protected by the court's ruling and don't face the threat of prosecution, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights, a plaintiff in the lawsuit.
  • "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," Judge Maya Guerra Gamble said.

Context: The Center for Reproductive Rights previously filed a lawsuit on behalf of two doctors and 20 women who were denied abortions while experiencing pregnancy complications.

  • The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the case, Zurawski v. Texas, but had not made a ruling as of early December.
  • "Today's ruling in Cox v. Texas underscores the need for the relief requested in the Zurawski case," the Center for Reproductive Rights said in a statement.

Zoom in: Cox sued the state while in the middle of a medical emergency, as her pregnancy was affected by trisomy 18, a chromosomal syndrome linked to abnormalities in the body and low birth weights.

  • The fetus was expected to miscarry or result in a stillbirth or newborn death, which would have had implications for Cox's future fertility.
  • "Most women are not able to do what Kate has done," the Center said. "Many Texans have been forced to continue pregnancies that put their lives at risk."
  • According to the lawsuit, the fetus also has other conditions — including an umbilical hernia, a twisted spine and an irregular skull and heart development — that add additional complications for the fetus' possibility of survival.

The other side: Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a statement that the order "will not insulate hospitals, doctors, or anyone else, from civil and criminal liability for violating Texas' abortion laws."

  • The temporary restraining order "will expire long before the statute of limitations for violating Texas' abortion laws expires," Paxton said.

What's next: The state could try to appeal the decision, Molly Duane, senior staff attorney at the Center, said on Thursday. But the court order gives Cox permission to receive her needed health care.

  • "We are working with her to figure out the fastest way to get her abortion care," said Duane, who was the arguing attorney.
  • Paxton's office later petitioned the Texas Supreme Court to block the lower court's decision, and in response, the higher court temporarily stayed Judge Gamble's ruling late Friday.
  • "We are talking about urgent medical care," Duane said in a statement the Center for Reproductive Rights posted on Twitter. "Kate is already 20 weeks pregnant. This is why people should not need to beg for healthcare in a court of law."

Go deeper: Texas woman sues to get emergency abortion for nonviable pregnancy

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include a statement from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and the Texas Supreme Court's decision.

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