Kate Cox Forced to Leave Texas After the State Blocked Her From Getting an Emergency Abortion

Texas held Cox’s health, safety, and fertility hostage for political theater. "Justice delayed will be justice denied,” Cox’s attorney said of the ruling.

Kate Cox Forced to Leave Texas After the State Blocked Her From Getting an Emergency Abortion
Kate Cox Photo:Center for Reproductive Rights

UPDATE, 12/11/23 at 2:15 p.m.: A week after Texas resident Kate Cox filed a petition seeking an emergency abortion due to a severe fetal condition, the Center for Reproductive Rights confirmed on Monday afternoon that the mother of two is now being forced to travel out-of-state for care. A lower court judge initially offered Cox a temporary restraining order from Texas’ total abortion ban on Thursday, but by Friday evening, the Texas Supreme Court blocked this temporary restraining order. Now, 20 weeks into her pregnancy, Cox must seek care elsewhere.

“This past week of legal limbo has been hellish for Kate,” Nancy Northup, president and CEO at the Center, said in a statement. “She’s been in and out of the emergency room and she couldn’t wait any longer.” Northrup traced Texas’ brutal mistreatment of Cox to the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade: “This is the result of the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe: women are forced to beg for urgent healthcare in court. Kate’s case has shown the world that abortion bans are dangerous for pregnant people, and exceptions don’t work.”

Northrup continued, “[Cox] desperately wanted to be able to get care where she lives and recover at home surrounded by family. While Kate had the ability to leave the state, most people do not, and a situation like this could be a death sentence.”

Last week, Kate Cox, a mother of two in Texas, filed an emergency lawsuit to access urgent abortion care 20 weeks into her pregnancy due to a fetal diagnosis that threatens her life and her future fertility. Travis County Judge Maya Guerra Gamble heard Cox’s story and, through tears, granted Cox’s request for a temporary restraining order from Texas’ abortion ban that would allow health care providers to offer her an emergency abortion, without the threat of jail or fines. But late Friday night, Texas did what it does best: endanger pregnant people’s lives and reject their pleas for life-saving, basic care. The state is holding Cox’s health, safety, and fertility hostage for political theater.

“In this case we fear that justice delayed will be justice denied,” Molly Duane, an attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights representing Cox, said in a statement following the Texas Supreme Court’s decision to temporarily halt the judge’s ruling. “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.”

Cox’s suit specifically asks that the court allow her OB/GYN, Dr. Damla Karsan, to provide her with an abortion without facing the threat of prosecution. (Karsan is a plaintiff in a separate ongoing lawsuit also filed by the Center asking Texas to clarify the medical emergency exception of the state’s abortion ban.) It also marks the first time an individual’s had to sue for the right to an abortion since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973.

The 31-year-old has already been rushed to the ER four times, according to her attorneys, but doctors kept saying their hands were tied due to Texas’ stringent abortion ban, and sent her home. Under current law, health care providers in Texas face the threat of life in prison, a $100,000 fine, and loss of their medical license if they provide an abortion that appears to run afoul of the state’s dangerously ambiguous guidelines. On Thursday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton threatened to unleash all of these penalties against any doctor who helped Cox.

“Fearmongering has been Ken Paxton’s main tactic in enforcing these abortion bans,” Duane wrote in a statement shared with Jezebel last Thursday. She further accused Paxton of “misrepresenting the court’s order” and “trying to bulldoze the legal system to make sure Kate and pregnant women like her continue to suffer.”

Friday’s late-night action came after Paxton warned three different hospitals in Cox’s community that the state would take legal action—including fines and prosecution—if any of them offered Cox emergency care. It’s also worth noting that, in 2012, one of the state’s Supreme Court judges, Justice John Devine, boasted about being arrested 37 times for protesting and blocking abortion clinics.

“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,” Gamble said in her opinion. Per Cox’s lawsuit, she recently received confirmation that her baby has Trisomy 18, a condition where the fetus has almost no chance of survival, and places Cox at risk of severe health complications, death, and infertility. Cox’s options were to continue her pregnancy until she gives birth to a baby that could live only minutes, while jeopardizing her own health, or travel out-of-state for the procedure.

“It is not a matter of if I will have to say goodbye to my baby, but when. I’m trying to do what is best for my baby and myself, but the state of Texas is making us both suffer,” Cox said in a press release shared with Jezebel after filing the emergency lawsuit. “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 my baby to arrive in this world only to watch her suffer. I need to end my pregnancy now so that I have the best chance for my health and a future pregnancy.”

Despite the urgency of Cox’s situation, and Duane’s assertion at the Thursday hearing that “no one knows” what the Texas abortion ban’s medical exception entails and that “the state won’t tell us,” an attorney representing the state responded with shocking cruelty. Johnathan Stone, a lawyer with the Texas attorney general’s office, said that because Cox would not suffer “immediate and irreparable injury,” she doesn’t qualify. Stone inexplicably argued that “the only party that’s going to suffer an immediate and irreparable harm,” should Cox get an abortion, is “the state [Texas].” After the hearing, Duane called Stone’s arguments “stunning.”

“They have… revealed their true position all along: Only when a woman is about to die—or even when it’s too late—can abortion be allowed in the state of Texas,” Duane said. “In other words, these medical exceptions are no real exception at all.”

Cox’s lawsuit places front and center the brutality of Texas’ laws, and demonstrates how abortion bans compound the physical and emotional trauma of nonviable, life-threatening pregnancies by forcing people to essentially beg for life-saving care—then tell them no. Unsurprisingly, this isn’t even the only lawsuit against Texas’ abortion ban, as the Texas Supreme Court prepares to rule on Zurawski v. Texas, the aforementioned suit filed by the Center on behalf of 20 women who were denied emergency abortions for life-threatening, nonviable pregnancies. Their suit asks the state to clarify the ban’s exception which supposedly allows someone to receive abortion care when their life is at risk, but hasn’t helped women in practice. Cox contacted the Center shortly after learning about the women’s lawsuit.

“Every day, people like Kate are suffering under these dangerous bans and the state of Texas is choosing to let it happen,” Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center, said in a statement. “Women like Kate should not be forced to go to court to protect her health and preserve her future fertility.”

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