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Pregnant woman asks Texas court for emergency abortion in new lawsuit

Hundreds of demonstrators rally after the Supreme Court’s drafted opinion to overturn Roe v. Wade is leaked on May 14, 2022, at the Texas State Capitol Building in Austin. Patricia Lim/KUT
Patricia Lim
/
KUT
Hundreds of demonstrators rally after the Supreme Court’s drafted opinion to overturn Roe v. Wade is leaked on May 14, 2022, at the Texas State Capitol in Austin.

A Travis County district court will hold an emergency hearing on Thursday after the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a suit Tuesday on behalf of a Texas woman petitioning the state of Texas for the right to an emergency abortion.

The lead plaintiff, Kate Cox, who was 20 weeks pregnant at the time of the filing, recently learned that her baby was diagnosed with trisomy 18. Trisomy 18 usually results in miscarriage or stillbirth, according to the Cleveland Clinic. In Cox's case, ultrasounds and testing paint a grim picture: her baby's heart, skull, spine and umbilical cord are all developing irregularly, among other issues.

Doctors counseled Cox that her baby is likely to die in utero or live for a week at most, according to the filing. Additionally, they said continuing her pregnancy and delivering at full term could be risky due to other ongoing pregnancy complications, and her ability to carry another pregnancy could also be impacted.

Cox sought an abortion following the diagnosis but was denied due to Texas’ laws restricting abortion.

“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 news release. “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.”

The initial filing in Cox v. Texas follows activity in another case brought by the Center for Reproductive Rights challenging the state’s abortion laws. In Zurawski v. Texas, a group of 22 women and physicians have challenged the narrow emergency medical exception included in Texas’ overlapping abortion bans, calling it ambiguous. The exception allows an abortion in the case of life-threatening conditions that place "the woman in danger of death or a serious risk of substantial impairment of a major bodily function.”

Many of the plaintiffs in Zurawski v. Texas learned while pregnant that their fetuses had fatal abnormalities or had conditions that put their own lives in danger. All were denied abortions in Texas. Two of the plaintiffs are physicians who fear penalties including fines, prison time, and the loss of their medical licenses if they perform an abortion that is deemed illegal.

A Travis County judge initially ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in August, issuing a temporary injunction that allowed abortions during high-risk pregnancies, including those that involve fatal fetal conditions. Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office quickly appealed, leading to the arguments before the state Supreme Court last week. A decision is still forthcoming.

Attorneys for the state argued that the plaintiffs in Zurawski v. Texas lacked standing because they were not currently pregnant, unlike Cox.

In Cox v. Texas, plaintiffs specifically ask the state to allow Dr. Damla Karsan to provide Cox with an abortion. Karsan is also a plaintiff in Zurawski v. Texas. They also seek protection for Cox’s husband, Justin Cox, who says he fears liability under Senate Bill 8, under which Texas citizens can report those who aid someone in getting an abortion.

“Abortion is standard healthcare, and Kate needs that care right now,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “The court must urgently step in to protect Kate’s health. Women like Kate should not be forced to go to court to protect her health and preserve her future fertility.”

The emergency hearing in Cox's case is scheduled for 9 a.m. Thursday and will be live streamed on the Travis County 459th District Court Youtube page.

Olivia Aldridge is KUT's health care reporter. Got a tip? Email her at oaldridge@kut.org. Follow her on X @ojaldridge.