The Texas Supreme Court late Friday temporarily stayed athat would have allowed a woman whose fetus has been diagnosed with what doctors say is a fatal disorder to have an emergency abortion.
Kate Cox, a Dallas-area mother of two, said she found out last week that her baby suffered from the chromosomal disorder trisomy 18, which usually results in either stillbirth or an early death of an infant. The Center for Reproductive Rights filed an emergency lawsuit Monday on behalf of Cox and her husband.
Travis County Judge Maya Guerra Gamble ruled Thursday that Cox could terminate the pregnancy.
"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, in a news release following the state Supreme Court's stay. "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."
The all-Republican state Supreme Court's hold on the lower court's ruling did not include an opinion.
"It's an unsigned order from the court," trial attorney David Berg, a member of the State Bar of Texas, told CBS News. "But generally what that means is, that the Supreme Court sees merit in the state of Texas' opposition to the order."
"Both sides can go to the Supreme Court of the United States," Berg added.
Following Thursday's ruling, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's office issued a statement saying the temporary restraining order "will not insulate hospitals, doctors, or anyone else, from civil and criminal liability for violating Texas' abortion laws."
Paxton's office also included a letter sent to several medical centers outlining action it will take against doctors who perform an abortion.
According to the lawsuit, Cox, who is 20 weeks pregnant, has been to three different emergency rooms in the past month, and her doctors have told her that early screening and ultrasound tests suggested her pregnancy is "unlikely to end with a healthy baby," and due to her two prior cesarean sections, continuing the pregnancy puts her at risk of "severe complications" that threaten "her life and future fertility."
The lawsuit alleges that due to Texas' strict abortion bans, doctors have told her their "hands are tied" and she would have to wait until the fetus dies inside her or carry the pregnancy to term, when she will have to undergo a third C-section "only to watch her baby suffer until death."
On Nov. 28, Cox received the results of an amniocentesis, which confirmed that her fetus suffered from a genetic condition called trisomy 18 — a diagnosis, the lawsuit says, that means her pregnancy may not last until birth and if it does, her baby will be stillborn or survive only for minutes, hours or days.
The lawsuit was filed as the State Supreme Court is weighing whether the state's strict abortion ban is too restrictive for women who suffer from severe pregnancy complications. An Austin judge ruled earlier this year that women who experience extreme complications could be exempt from the ban, but the ruling is on hold while the all-Republican Supreme Court considers the state's appeal.
In the arguments before the state Supreme Court, the state's lawyers suggested that a woman who is pregnant and receives a fatal fetal diagnosis could bring a "lawsuit in that specific circumstance."
Texas' abortion ban
Texas has some of the strictest abortion laws in the country. In 2021, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law SB8, which bans abortions after roughly six weeks of pregnancy. A "trigger ban" also went into effect following the Supreme Court's 2022 ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization that made it a felony for doctors in the state to perform an abortion unless the life of the patient is in danger.
Earlier this year, several women who were denied abortions despite severe pregnancy complications filed a lawsuit asking the state to clarify the strict abortion ban for medical exemptions. In July, an Austin court heard testimony from four of the women in the lawsuit as well as a Houston OB-GYN representing her patients.
Lead plaintiff Amanda Zurawski, who attended President Biden's State of the Union address this year as a guest of first lady Jill Biden, testified that she was denied an emergency abortion when her water broke when she was just 18 weeks pregnant. She said she suffered from multiple medical complications and knew she would miscarry, but doctors initially told her they could not induce labor because the fetus still had a heartbeat.
After developing sepsis three days later, doctors finally performed an induction abortion. As a result of two bouts of sepsis, she said one of her fallopian tubes has closed permanently, and she has had to undergo several procedures to reconstruct her uterus. She said her doctor told her that the only way she could get pregnant again was through IVF. Since then, Zurawski has undergone three egg retrievals, but she and her husband still have concerns about a future pregnancy.
What is trisomy 18?
According to Cox, her amniocentesis revealed her fetus suffered from trisomy 18, meaning it had three copies of chromosome 18 instead of two. According to the Cleveland Clinic, heart problems are present in 90% of babies born with trisomy 18, as well as kidney disease, breathing abnormalities, gastrointestinal tract and abdominal wall issues, birth defects and spinal problems.
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