When Texas Republican policymakers approved an abortion ban, their law created an exception of sorts: Physicians are able to terminate pregnancies after six weeks if there’s a risk of “substantial” harm to pregnant women. There is, however, one rather dramatic flaw with the provision: No one seems to know what exactly that means.
As we’ve discussed, the result is a situation in which medical professionals in the Lone Star State — fearing enormous financial penalties and possible prison sentences — have refused to treat many patients in need of reproductive care.
It’s also led some women to take their cases to court. As my MSNBC colleague Clarissa-Jan Lim reported, Kate Cox is a 31-year-old mother of two in the Dallas area who is about 20 weeks pregnant. She also recently learned that her third pregnancy will come to a tragic end: The fetus has a genetic condition that’s likely to cause stillbirth or the death of the baby shortly after it’s born.
Because Cox’s other children were delivered by cesarean section, this pregnancy creates a risk of serious medical issues — she’s already had four emergency room visits recently — so she went to court to get a judge-approved abortion. State District Judge Maya Guerra Gamble granted the request.
“The idea that Miss 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,” the judge said.
In a statement Thursday afternoon, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said that the judge’s order “will not insulate hospitals, doctors, or anyone else, from civil and criminal liability for violating Texas’ abortion laws. This includes first degree felony prosecutions.” It also does not prohibit private citizens or a district or county attorney from enforcing Texas’ pre-Roe abortion laws against Cox’s doctor or anyone else, Paxton argued, adding that the judge’s order “will expire long before the statute of limitations for violating Texas’ abortion laws expires.”
The state attorney general also took the additional step of sending official letters to three Houston-area hospitals, warning administrators that the court order would “not insulate hospitals, doctors, or anyone else, from civil and criminal liability for violating Texas’ abortion laws.”
In other words, Paxton is not only needlessly involving himself in Cox’s plight, he’s also effectively telling local hospitals, “Think twice before you honor a court order and provide medical care for a woman desperately in need of assistance.”
Cox told NBC News that she and her husband want to have a third child and “never imagined that we would be in this position.” She added that being forced to continue the pregnancy, with “the pain and suffering” and risks that go along with it, “I think it’s cruel.”
“I really would love another baby,” Cox concluded. “So, I’m hopeful for my health, our family.”
If there’s a defense for Paxton’s efforts to interfere with Cox’s future, I can’t think of it.
This post updates our related earlier coverage.