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Woman who sued Texas for access to abortion seeks procedure out of state instead

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Kate Cox, a woman with pregnancy complications who asked Texas courts for access to an abortion, has left the state for one instead. The fast-moving case was just filed last week and was pending before the state Supreme Court. NPR's Selena Simmons-Duffin is here to explain what happened. Hi there.

SELENA SIMMONS-DUFFIN, BYLINE: Hi, Juana.

SUMMERS: Selena, let's start with Kate Cox. Remind us who she is and about her situation.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: So she is 31 years old. She lives in the Dallas area with her husband and two young kids. And she was pregnant for the third time. About 20 weeks into her pregnancy, she learned her fetus has trisomy 18, which is a genetic condition with slim to no chance of survival. She also had gone to the ER multiple times with cramping and other symptoms. She reached out to the Center for Reproductive Rights, and they filed an emergency petition asking the Texas courts to suspend all of the abortion bans penalties against her, her husband and her doctor so she could receive an abortion in Texas.

SUMMERS: Right. And last week a district court judge granted that request. So what happened next?

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Well, right away, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton appealed to the Texas Supreme Court. He also sent a letter alluding to possible fines, felony charges and regulatory claims against several hospitals that might have been the place for her to have an abortion. On Friday, the Texas Supreme Court put a hold on the case, so Cox was in legal limbo for several days. Of course, her pregnancy was progressing over those days. Her window to get an abortion was possibly closing. So now she's left the state for an abortion, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights. So it seems likely that the case will be dismissed.

SUMMERS: And, Selena, how does this fit in with the other legal challenges that you've been following, the Texas abortion laws?

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: OK. So you and I have talked about the Zurawski case. So that's 20 patients who say the medical exception to the Texas abortion ban is too narrow and confusing to be useful, and that that harmed them. The Texas Supreme Court heard arguments in late November about that case, and a ruling could come in the next few weeks or months. What happened with Kate Cox is interesting to me for a few different reasons, even though it's a totally unrelated case.

SUMMERS: OK. Say more about that.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Well, first of all, the state of Texas has argued that the state didn't deny anyone an abortion, and that includes Amanda Zurawski, the lead plaintiff. After she was denied an abortion, she developed sepsis and ended up in the ICU. And I was there in the courtroom last July in Austin. And remember this question put to her by Assistant Attorney General Amy Pletcher.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AMY PLETSCHER: At any time, did Attorney General Paxton tell you that you cannot receive an abortion?

AMANDA ZURAWSKI: I never spoke to Attorney General Ken Paxton directly, no.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: She asked that question of every patient who testified. And in closing arguments, the state said, this isn't about Attorney General Ken Paxton. He didn't deny the abortion. It was the hospital's fault or the doctor's fault. But here, with Kate Cox, in this case, Paxton, in fact, did deny Cox an abortion she could have legally received if he hadn't intervened. And another point is that Texas has said patients with past pregnancy complications weren't actively being harmed by any laws, so they didn't have standing to sue here with this case. Kate Cox was in the middle of an emergency and did ask the state for permission to get an abortion. And now there's information about how Texas responded. It was a fast and ferocious denial. So she decided to seek care out of state, and her attorneys are not disclosing where she went.

SUMMERS: That is NPR's Selena Simmons-Duffin. Selena, thank you.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Selena Simmons-Duffin reports on health policy for NPR.