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Texas Supreme Court rules against woman who challenged state's abortion restrictions

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

A Texas woman who filed a petition to have an abortion there has left the state to get the procedure. The state's attorney general blocked an earlier court ruling allowing her to have the procedure, but the Texas Supreme Court ruled late Monday that she did not meet the requirements to get an abortion. Texas law currently bans abortion as long as a fetal heartbeat is detected, with a few narrow exceptions. Late last month, when Kate Cox was 20 weeks pregnant, she was told that her fetus has a genetic condition that is almost always fatal. Her doctors say her health and the ability to have more children in the future are at risk. And court documents say Cox, who's 31 and already the mother of two young children, has visited the emergency room three times due to pregnancy complications. Molly Duane is senior staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights. She's representing Cox and her husband, and she is with us now to tell us more. Good morning, Ms. Duane.

MOLLY DUANE: Good morning.

MARTIN: Can I just start by asking - how is Kate Cox doing?

DUANE: Well, medically, she is doing all right. You know, we have been very focused on getting her the medical care that she needs, which is an abortion. I want to be clear about that. But she is also feeling very disappointed and, frankly, shocked at how her state has failed her. I mean, essentially, what has happened over the last week, which, you know, perhaps is a short time to a court but is a very long time to a pregnant person with an emergent health condition - is that everyone in her state has said they can't take responsibility for the human suffering that she is in - that she is going through - not the courts, not the medical board and certainly not the attorney general. So it's been, I think, a very disappointing and challenging time for all of us.

MARTIN: You know, Texas abortion law does allow abortions in the case of a medical emergency or a major bodily injury. It would seem that having your future fertility at risk would cover that - would be covered under that. Why wasn't Kate Cox included in that exception?

DUANE: I mean, this is what we've been saying all along - is that the medical exceptions to these abortion bans, Texas primary among them, don't make any sense. Doctors don't understand what this language means, and no one knows how close to death a patient needs to be. And in the two years that these abortion bans have been in effect in Texas, the attorney general and officials for the state have remained eerily silent. They have refused to tell anyone what the exception means. And all we know now is that no one thinks that Kate Cox was sick enough. And that should be truly chilling because it means, I think, that the exception doesn't exist at all. And I think any regular person can look at her case and say, well, surely Kate should qualify. So I guess my question is, if she doesn't, who does?

MARTIN: Tell us more about the Supreme Court ruling. And it's actually fairly lengthy, so we don't have time to read it. People can look it up online. What's your reaction to it, and did you expect a different result?

DUANE: You know, I always remain hopeful. I've been litigating abortion rights cases for nearly a decade. And, you know, I always bring cases hoping that I'll win. But I've been disappointed enough times to know that this result was not unexpected, right? And all I can say is that Texans should look at this - should look at how the attorney general really was harassing the doctors and the hospitals who were trying to provide Kate with care and the ways in which the Texas Supreme Court first said, you know, we need a little bit more time to think about this, such that Kate had to spend the entire weekend in limbo, in bed, not sure what to do, and then, you know, late on Monday said, well, actually, it wasn't enough. And I just - I need people to understand how extreme these abortion bans are. But at the same time, I do want to emphasize - you know, we named Kate and her husband in this lawsuit to protect them both.

DUANE: I was going to ask you about that - why is her husband a party to this?

DUANE: Well, so the abortion ban that you mentioned at the top that applies when there is a fetal or cardiac activity of any kind - that is a vigilante lawsuit which says that anyone in the world can file a lawsuit against Mrs. Cox's husband if she receives an abortion in Texas and the attorney general thinks that it was illegal. But I want to be clear that because Kate and her husband have traveled out of state, they are not liable under those laws anymore. And I'm seeing just a ton of misinformation about this.

MARTIN: OK.

DUANE: And that is that is troubling because the cruelty here is the point. That is why Texas has created such a law. It makes people fearful that they can't do anything - that they can't leave their state. But if she seeks care out of state in a place where it is legal, no one can come after her. And I want people to understand that.

MARTIN: OK. Before we - well, we don't have time to answer this question, but it would seem that the opinion puts a lot on doctors, and I think perhaps that's the next conversation that we should have when we have time. Molly Duane is a senior staff attorney with the Center for Reproductive Rights. Ms. Duane, thank you for speaking with us.

DUANE: Thanks so much. 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.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.