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A pregnant Texas woman asked a court for permission to get an abortion, despite a ban. What's next?

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A pregnant Texas woman asked a court for permission to get an abortion, despite a ban. What's next?
AP
PAUL J. WEBER
December 09, 2023

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Kate Cox, a mother of two in Texas, became pregnant again in August but soon after learned devasting news: Her baby has a fatal condition and is likely to either be stillborn or die shortly after birth.

The tragic circumstances have thrust Cox, 31, into the center of an unprecedented challenge over abortion bans that have altered the landscape for women in the U.S. A Texas judge gave Cox permission this week to receive an abortion, but the state's highest court put that decision on hold Friday night.

Whether Cox, who is 20 weeks pregnant, can legally receive an abortion under narrow exceptions to the state's ban is now in limbo while the Texas Supreme Court considers her case. The court, which is made up of nine Republican justices, gave no timetable on when it might rule.

Her lawsuit is believed to be the first since Roe v. Wade was overturned last year asking a court for permission to get an abortion. A pregnant Kentucky woman has since filed a similar challenge.

With our client's life on the line, the State of Texas is playing despicable political games. This fight is not over,” the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is representing Cox, posted Saturday on X.

Here's what to know:

WHO IS KATE COX?

Cox lives in the Dallas area with her husband and two children, ages 3 and 1. Neither pregnancy was easy and she had a cesarean surgery for both deliveries, according to her lawsuit filed this week in Austin.

In October, doctors told Cox that her fetus was at a high risk for a condition known as trisomy 18, which has a very high likelihood of miscarriage or stillbirth, and low survival rates, according to the lawsuit. Her attorneys say Cox has been to the emergency room at least four times, including this week, and that her health is put increasingly at risk the longer her pregnancy lasts.

Doctors have told Cox that inducing labor or carrying the baby to term could jeopardize her ability to have another child in the future.

“I really would love another baby," Cox told NBC News this week after a lower court judge granted her permission for an abortion, “So, I’m hopeful for my health, our family.”

WHY DOES TEXAS SAY SHE DOESN'T QUALIFY FOR AN ABORTION?

Republican Texas Attorney General Kan Paxton, who is leading efforts to prevent the abortion, says Cox does not meet the requirements for a medical exception under the state's ban. His office argues that Cox did not demonstrate that the pregnancy has put her life at imminent risk and notes that she was sent home following her visits to hospital emergency rooms.

Texas' ban makes no exceptions for fetal anomalies. There are no recent statistics on the frequency of terminations for fetal anomalies in the U.S. but experts say it’s a small percentage of total procedures.

“The Texas Legislature did not intend for courts to become revolving doors of permission slips to obtain abortions,” Paxton's office wrote in a filing to the state Supreme Court.

HAS TEXAS ALLOWED ANY ABORTIONS SINCE THE BAN TOOK EFFECT?

Texas is one of 13 states that rushed to ban abortion at nearly all stages of pregnancy after Roe was overturned. Texas has long been at the forefront of strict abortion laws in the U.S., and even now, there are ongoing efforts to make it harder for pregnant women to leave Texas for states where the procedure is legal.

Under Texas' bans, doctors who provide an abortion can face criminal charges that carry punishments of up to life in prison. They could also face lawsuits from private citizens, who are empowered to sue a person who helps a woman obtain an abortion, such as the doctor's staff. The laws do not threaten the mother with any legal consequences.

Fewer than 50 women in Texas have received abortions since the ban took effect last year, according to state health data. None is known to have resulted in criminal charges or lawsuits.

Who qualifies for a medical exception under Texas' ban has become one of the biggest legal questions since Roe was overturned. A separate case before the Texas Supreme Court argues that lawmakers made the requirements too vague, leaving doctors fearful of providing abortions under virtually any circumstance.

A ruling in that case is likely still months away.

WHAT ABOUT THE KENTUCKY CASE?

Hours before the Texas Supreme Court put Cox's case on hold Friday, a woman in Kentucky who is eight weeks pregnant also demanded the right to an abortion in state court.

Unlike Cox's case, the Kentucky lawsuit seeks class-action status to include other women who are or will become pregnant and want to have an abortion. Republican state Attorney General Daniel Cameron, whose office has defended the state's anti-abortion laws, has said his office is reviewing the lawsuit.

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