A woman whose fetus has a fatal condition is petitioning a Texas court to let her override the state’s total abortion ban and terminate the pregnancy—the first such case since the fall of Roe v. Wade.
Lawyers for the Center for Reproductive Rights filed suit on behalf of Kate Cox, a 31-year-old from Dallas-Fort Worth who learned last month that her fetus has Trisomy 18, a chromosomal anomaly that causes developmental delays so severe that most infants do not survive more than two weeks. Cox’s attorneys are seeking a temporary restraining order against Texas’ abortion bans to allow her to end the pregnancy without leaving the state.
The mother of two learned she was pregnant with a third child in August, but soon received devastating news from her doctors, according to the suit. Ultrasounds in October revealed the fetus had an umbilical hernia, a twisted spine likely due to spina bifida, a neural tube defect, clubbed feet, irregular skull and heart development, and other serious medical conditions. An amniocentesis in November showed the fetus had what doctors had feared: full Trisomy 18, an almost always fatal condition.
The diagnosis meant Cox’s fetus is unlikely to survive past birth or much longer, according to the suit. It also poses threats to her own health; because she previously gave birth twice by C-section, inducing labor early carries a “serious risk of uterine rupture,” while having a full-term C-section would make subsequent pregnancies higher risk, the suit states. Cox has already been to the hospital twice during her pregnancy, once for days of severe cramping and diarrhea and again for leaking amniotic fluid.
Doctors advised Cox that the safest option would be a dilation and evacuation abortion, the suit states, but Texas law bars abortion except when necessary to save the life of a pregnant patient.
“Because of Texas’s abortion bans, Ms. Cox’s physicians have informed her that their ‘hands are tied’ and she will have to wait until her baby dies inside her or carry the pregnancy to term, at which point she will be forced to have a third C-section, only to watch her baby suffer until death,” the suit states.
In a statement, Cox said she wants to have an abortion to protect herself and prevent her baby from suffering. “It is not a matter of if I will have to say goodbye to my baby, but when,” she said.
“I do not want to continue the pain and suffering that has plagued this pregnancy,” she added. “I do not want to put my body through the risks of continuing this pregnancy. I do not want my baby to arrive in this world only to watch her suffer. I need to end my pregnancy now so that I have the best chance for my health and a future pregnancy.”
Cox’s case is the first time a pregnant person has sued to block an abortion ban since the fall of Roe v. Wade last June, which resulted in abortion being outlawed in 14 states and severely restricted in six others. Tuesday’s filing seeks a restraining order against the Texas abortion ban for Cox and Dr. Damla Karsan, an OB/GYN who volunteered to provide the abortion. Cox’s husband is also seeking protection under the restraining order, as Texas law allows private citizens to sue anyone involved in “aiding or abetting an abortion.”
The case comes just one week after the Texas Supreme Court heard arguments in Zurawski v. State of Texas, a case filed on behalf of two OBGYNs and 20 women who say they were denied abortion care for medically complex pregnancies. In that suit, the Center for Reproductive Rights is seeking to clarify the scope of the state’s “medical emergency” exception to its abortion ban. State District Judge Jessica Mangrum ruled in August that doctors could use their own judgment in the case of dangerous pregnancies—including lethal fetal diagnosis—but the state appealed, sending the case to the state Supreme Court.
Cox’s lawyers say she cannot wait for the Supreme Court to issue a ruling to get answers.
“Abortion is standard healthcare, and Kate needs that care right now,” Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement. “The court must urgently step in to protect Kate’s health. Women like Kate should not be forced to go to court to protect her health and preserve her future fertility.”