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Kate Cox leaves Texas to obtain an abortion: What happened and what's next

A pregnant Texas woman who filed a lawsuit against Texas over its abortion ban has left the state to obtain the procedure after the Texas Supreme Court halted a district judge’s ruling that would’ve allowed her to have one legally.

Kate Cox, a 31-year-old mother from the Dallas area who is 20 weeks pregnant, was granted an emergency order last week in her suit over the state's abortion ban, which was enacted after Roe v. Wade was overturned by the Supreme Court last year. It is believed to be the first case of its kind to be brought since before that landmark abortion decision was issued in 1973.

Cox had filed suit against the Texas attorney general’s office and state medical board after her fetus received a fatal diagnosis.

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Late Friday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed an appeal asking the state's Supreme Court to block the ruling. The court agreed to temporarily halt the order while it considered Paxton's appeal.

On Monday, lawyers for Cox said she had left the state in order to obtain an abortion instead of waiting for the court to rule on the matter.

“Her health is on the line,” Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is representing Cox, said in a statement. “She’s been in and out of the emergency room and she couldn’t wait any longer.”

Later Monday, the Texas Supreme Court issued its ruling, saying that Cox did not prove she had a "life-threatening physical condition" that would qualify her for a medical exemption under the state's strict abortion law.

What happened?

According to the lawsuit, Cox’s doctors recently told her that her fetus has developed trisomy 18, a rare chromosomal disorder likely to cause stillbirth or the death of the baby shortly after it’s born.

If the baby's heartbeat were to stop, Cox’s doctors have warned, inducing labor would carry a risk of a uterine rupture because of her prior cesarean sections, and having another C-section would endanger her ability to carry another child.

"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," Cox wrote in an editorial published by the Dallas Morning News. "I do not want my baby to arrive in this world only to watch her suffer."

Texas District Judge Maya Guerra Gamble granted Cox a temporary restraining order allowing her to have an abortion under narrow exceptions to the state’s ban.

“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 at a brief hearing Thursday morning.

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Texas law allows for abortions after six weeks if a woman experiences a “medical emergency,” which is defined in the law as “a life-threatening physical condition aggravated by, caused by, or arising from a pregnancy that, as certified by a physician, places the woman in danger of death or a serious risk of substantial impairment of a major bodily function unless an abortion is performed.”

Lawyers for the attorney general's office had argued that Cox does not meet the criteria for a medical exception because her life is not in imminent danger.

In its 7-page ruling, the state Supreme Court said Cox did not qualify for an abortion "based on the medical-necessity exception."

"No one disputes that Ms. Cox’s pregnancy has been extremely complicated," the court said. "Any parents would be devastated to learn of their unborn child’s trisomy 18 diagnosis. Some difficulties in pregnancy, however, even serious ones, do not pose the heightened risks to the mother the exception encompasses."

Which states have abortion bans?

After Roe v. Wade was overturned last year, Texas was among 14 states that moved to ban abortion at nearly all stages of pregnancy.

The other states with near-total bans on abortion are:

Idaho

North Dakota

South Dakota

Wisconsin

Missouri

Kentucky

West Virginia

Oklahoma

Arkansas

Tennessee

Alabama

Mississippi

Louisiana

More than 40 women have received abortions in Texas since the ban took effect last year, according to state health figures cited by the Associated Press. There were more than 16,000 abortions performed in the state in the five months before the ban.

What’s next?

The ruling in Cox’s case comes as the Texas Supreme Court is weighing a lawsuit brought by more than 20 women who say their lives were put in danger due to the state’s abortion ban.

According to their lawsuit, the women were denied abortions by doctors who were reluctant to perform the procedures because vague “non-medical terminology” in the state law could leave them open to civil or criminal prosecution.

Dr. Damla Karsan, Cox's gynecologist, is also a plaintiff in that case.

Late Thursday, Paxton sent a letter to the hospital where Karsan works saying that the emergency order issued by Judge Gamble "will not insulate hospitals, doctors, or anyone else, from civil and criminal liability for violating Texas' abortion laws."

In the letter, Paxton warned that the hospital may be liable for "negligently credentialing" Karsan if she is permitted to "perform an unlawful abortion."