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Texas Supreme Court temporarily blocks pregnant woman from receiving emergency abortion

(CNN) — The Texas Supreme Court has temporarily blocked a pregnant woman from obtaining an emergency abortion in a ruling issued late Friday.

The court froze a lower court’s ruling that would have allowed Kate Cox, who sued the state seeking a court-ordered abortion, to obtain the procedure. “Without regard to the merits, the Court administratively stays the district court’s December 7, 2023 order,” the order states.

The court noted the case would remain pending before them but did not include any timeline on when a full ruling might be issued. Cox is 20 weeks pregnant. Her unborn baby was diagnosed with a fatal genetic condition and she says complications in her pregnancy are putting her health at risk.

Following the ruling, Cox’s attorney said they remain hopeful the state’s request is quickly rejected. “We are talking about urgent medical care. Kate is already 20 weeks pregnant,” said Molly Duane, an attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “This is why people should not need to beg for healthcare in a court of law.”

The ruling came just hours after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton petitioned the high court to intervene in the case.

Paxton’s petition stemmed from a ruling on Thursday by a Texas judge who granted a 14-day temporary restraining order against the state’s abortion ban, so Cox could legally terminate her pregnancy.

The decision marked a significant development in the ongoing debate over the state’s medical exception to its controversial ban on abortions after six weeks – one of the strictest in the nation.

In the petition filings with the state Supreme Court, Paxton – who has threatened prosecution against anyone who helps facilitate the abortion – asked for an emergency stay of the district court judge’s ruling.

In a letter to three hospitals in Houston where, according to the Texas Medical Board, Cox’s physician has privileges, Paxton wrote Cox has failed to demonstrate she has a “life-threatening” medical condition related to her pregnancy or that her symptoms place her “at risk of death” or major bodily harm.

The state attorney general also warned the hospitals Thursday’s ruling “will not insulate you, or anyone else, from civil and criminal liability,” including first-degree felony prosecutions and civil penalties of at least $100,000 for each violation.

Cox sought an emergency hearing to obtain an abortion after learning her unborn baby had trisomy 18, a fatal genetic condition, and is not expected to live more than a few days outside the womb, according to the suit.

Cox, 31, has been to three different emergency rooms in the last month due to severe cramping and unidentifiable fluid leaks, according to her suit. She has had two prior caesarean surgeries – C-sections – and, the suit said, “continuing the pregnancy puts her at high risk for severe complications threatening her life and future fertility, including uterine rupture and hysterectomy.”

A ‘disregard’ for Cox’s life

Before the state’s Supreme Court weighed in, attorneys for Cox and the Center for Reproductive Rights, an abortion rights legal group representing Cox, said Paxton’s petition to block her procedure was “stunning” and showed a “disregard for Ms. Cox’s life, fertility, and the rule of law.”

“The State claims that it alone has the power to value Ms. Cox’s current nonviable pregnancy more highly than Ms. Cox’s own life and life of the future children she and her husband hope to have, regardless of Ms. Cox’s wishes for her family and the good faith advice of her medical team,” their response states.

The response goes on to say the plaintiffs agree the state Supreme Court should take urgent action, “specifically, to remind the Attorney General that he does not exist outside the systems of laws of which he is an officer, and that he must follow court orders just like the citizens he purports to serve.”

The filing also requests the state Supreme Court to reject Paxton’s threat of prosecution of the doctors and anyone else who helps facilitate the abortion.

Molly Duane, Cox’s attorney, would not say Thursday when and where Cox would be getting the abortion but said they planned to help get her the care “the fastest way” possible.

This story has been updated with additional information.

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