Dec 11 (Reuters) – The Texas Supreme Court on Monday overturned a lower court ruling that would have allowed a pregnant woman to have an emergency abortion under medical exceptions to the state’s total abortion ban, accepting a petition by Republican Attorney General Ken. Paxton.
The unanimous ruling from the Texas Supreme Court came hours after the woman’s attorneys filed a court filing saying Kate Cox had left the state to get an abortion, but wanted to proceed with the case. Cox said her fetus had a life-threatening diagnosis and that if she continued with the pregnancy, her health would be at risk, including her ability to have more children in the future.
The Supreme Court, whose nine justices are all Republicans, said Unsigned comment A “good faith” claim by Damla Curzon, who sought an abortion, along with Cox’s lawsuit, that the procedure was medically necessary was insufficient to qualify for a state exemption.
Instead, the court said, Curson must use his “reasonable medical judgment” to determine that Cox had a “life-threatening condition” and that an abortion was necessary to prevent her death or loss of vital bodily function.
“A woman who meets the medical-necessity exception need not seek a court order to have an abortion,” the court wrote. “The law leaves to physicians — not judges — both the discretion and the responsibility to use their reasonable clinical judgment, considering each patient’s unique facts and circumstances,” the court wrote.
The case is a key test of the scope of the medical exemption, which is already before the court in a separate case brought by 22 women who experienced pregnancy complications, although none of those women wanted an immediate abortion. Monday’s ruling rejected the plaintiffs’ main argument in that case — that doctors’ good faith should be enough to meet the exception.
“This ruling should anger every Texan to their core,” Cox’s attorney, Molly Duane of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement. “If Kate can’t have an abortion in Texas, who can? Kate’s case is proof that exemptions don’t work, and being pregnant in any state with an abortion ban is dangerous.”
Paxton’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Cox’s fetus was diagnosed on November 27 with trisomy 18, which usually results in miscarriage, stillbirth or death soon after birth.
Paxton urged the Texas Supreme Court to act quickly after District Court Judge Maya Guerra Gamble issued a temporary restraining order allowing Cox to have an abortion at a hearing in Austin last Thursday.
In her filing with the high court, Paxton’s office said the criteria for the Cox medical exemption “falls far short of proving” and warned that Texas courts should not be a “revolving door of permits to obtain abortions.”
Cox, 31, of the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Filed the case last Tuesday Texas is seeking a temporary restraining order preventing enforcement of its abortion ban in its lawsuit.
Cox’s lawyers say it’s the first such case since the U.S. Supreme Court last year overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that guaranteed abortion rights nationwide.
Cox, who was about 20 weeks pregnant when she first filed suit, said in her lawsuit that she would have to undergo a third cesarean section if she continued the pregnancy. That could affect her ability to have more children, which she and her husband said they wanted.
Cox said in her lawsuit that although her doctors believed her abortion was medically necessary, they were unwilling to perform an abortion without a court order because of the lack of clarity on how the exemption would be interpreted and the potential penalties, including prison and life imprisonment. They lost their licenses for violating state abortion laws.
Paxton warned in a letter sent shortly after Gamble issued the order that it does not protect doctors, hospitals or anyone else from prosecution or potential civil liability for violating Texas’ abortion laws. A letter was sent to three hospitals that have concessions for Curzon.
Last Friday, while the lawsuit was pending, a pregnant woman in Kentucky filed a new class action lawsuit challenging the state’s abortion ban.
Reporting by Brendan Pearson in New York; Editing by Alexia Karambalvi, Bill Bergrod and Leslie Adler
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Brendan Pearson reports on all areas of product liability litigation and health care law. He can be reached at [email protected].