The Texas Supreme Court has temporarily halted a lower court’s ruling that allowed a woman who is 20 weeks pregnant to get an abortion despite the conservative US state’s ban on the procedure.
The one-page order from the all-Republican top court was issued late on Friday and the legal battle was seen as a major test case since the US Supreme Court overturned the nationwide constitutional right to abortion last year, enabling states like Texas to pass near-complete bans.
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State district judge Maya Guerra Gamble, an elected Democrat, had on Thursday ruled to permit Kate Cox, a 31-year-old mother of two, to have an abortion under the narrow exceptions to Texas’s ban, since her fetus had a fatal diagnosis.
According to Cox’s lawsuit, weeks after she found out she was pregnant, she was told that her baby 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.
Doctors also told Cox that if the baby’s heartbeat were to stop, inducing labour would carry a risk of a uterine rupture because of her two prior caesarean sections, and that another C-section at full term would endanger her ability to carry another child.
Cox was 20 weeks pregnant when she filed the lawsuit, with help from the nonprofit Center for Reproductive Rights, which is believed to be the first time a pregnant woman in the United States asked a court to approve an abortion after Roe v Wade was overturned last June.
Since that landmark ruling, Texas and 12 other states rushed to ban abortion at nearly all stages of pregnancy.
The lower court’s ruling applied only to Cox and this current pregnancy and did not expand abortion access more broadly across Texas.
But the state’s Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton asked the Supreme Court to intervene to block Cox from obtaining an abortion.
On Friday night, Cox received a one-page order in which the Supreme Court said it was temporarily staying Thursday’s ruling “without regard to the merits”.
“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,” Molly Duane, a lawyer at the centre said.
In an editorial published in the Dallas Morning News, Cox wrote: “I do not want to continue the pain and suffering that has plagued this pregnancy or continue to put my body or my mental health through the risks of continuing this pregnancy.”
“The idea that Ms Cox wants desperately to be a parent, and this law might actually cause her to lose that ability, is shocking and would be a genuine miscarriage of justice,” Guerra Gamble had said on Thursday.
Paxton called Guerra Gamble “an activist” and argued that Cox does not meet the criteria for a medical exception to the abortion ban.
“Future criminal and civil proceedings cannot restore the life that is lost if plaintiffs or their agents proceed to perform and procure an abortion in violation of Texas law,” Paxton’s office told the court.
He had also warned three hospitals in Houston that they could face legal consequences if they allowed Cox’s physician to provide the abortion after the lower court order.
After the Supreme Court order, Cox’s lawyers have said they will not share her abortion plans, citing concerns for her safety.
The final verdict in her case is pending.