The Texas Supreme Court temporarily halts court-approved abortions

The Texas Supreme Court late Friday temporarily stayed a lower court’s order allowing a Dallas woman to have an abortion despite the state’s strict ban after learning her fetus had a fatal condition.

The state court’s decision was in response to an appeal by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who opposed a woman’s abortion.

The Supreme Court said that, “regardless of the merits” of either side’s arguments, it issued an administrative stay in the case to give itself more time to reach a final ruling.

The hold meant that, at this point, a Travis County judge’s order allowing the abortion was pending. That order allowed a woman, Kate Cox, to have an abortion and shielded her doctor from civil or criminal liability under Texas’ overlapping abortion bans.

“We fear justice delayed will be denied,” said Molly Duane, a senior staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is representing Ms. Cox.

The action by the Texas Supreme Court was the latest twist in the unusual saga unfolding over the state’s abortion bans, which are some of the strictest in the nation, over what is and isn’t allowed under their medical exemptions.

In his appeal, Mr. Paxton urged the court to act, writing that if abortion is allowed, “nothing can restore life to the unborn child that will be lost as a result.”

While the Texas bans allow exceptions to protect the health and life of the pregnant woman, doctors said the vague legal language has created fear of prosecution and reluctance to perform abortions.

The records of Mr. Paxton came a few hours after a district court judge issued a temporary restraining order against Mr. It bars Paxton and others from enforcing the state’s overlapping abortion bans against Ms. Cox’s doctor, Damela Karsan, or anyone who assisted her in providing Ms. Cox with an abortion. Cox.

In making the order, the judge, a Democrat, found that Ms. Cox, 31, a mother of two young children who lives in the Dallas area, met the criteria for an exception to the state’s abortion bans. Her fetus was diagnosed with trisomy 18, a fatal condition in all but a small number of rare cases; Mrs Cox, who is 20 weeks pregnant, has been to the emergency room several times due to pain and discharge during her pregnancy.

On Friday, the lawyers of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which also represents dr. Karsana, filed a response to Mr. Paxton in the state’s highest court.

“The state’s mandamus petition is stunning in its disregard for Ms. Cox’s life, fertility and rule of law,” Ms. Cox’s attorneys wrote. “Plaintiffs respectfully request that this court deny the order and direct the Attorney General to comply with the binding orders of the Texas court.”

A spokeswoman for the Center for Reproductive Rights said a decision could be made as soon as later in the day. The decision would only apply to Ms Cox and her current pregnancy.

Separately, the Texas Supreme Court also considered a broader lawsuit by women and doctors, including Drs. Karsana, with the support of the Center for Reproductive Rights. That lawsuit, Zurawski v. State of Texas, seeks to clarify a medical exemption that would apply statewide. Arguments in that case held last month.

After the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year, the issue of abortion has become a political commitment for Republicans in many states.

But Mr. Paxton, a Republican who was re-elected last year, relied on strong support from social and religious conservatives, who helped him return to office for a third term and survive a Republican-led impeachment trial against him.

“The political winds are at his back right now,” Matt Mackowiak, head of the Travis County Republican Party, said Friday.

Mr. Paxton has gained national prominence among conservative activists and hard-right voters for his willingness to use legal action, as well as official opinions and official letters, to champion their causes — including supporting efforts to nullify the 2020 presidential election and declaring that certain medical care for transgender youth constitutes “child abuse”.

His appeal to the Texas Supreme Court in Ms. Cox’s case followed his letter to three Houston hospitals in which he said Drs. Karsan authorized to see patients and can perform abortions, warning them that the judge’s order will not protect them from possible criminal prosecution or civil litigation.

Lawyers dr. Karsan said in legal filings that she believed her patient’s abortion was medically necessary to preserve her health and future fertility.

But in his letter, Mr. Paxton warned that the order would not limit state officials or private citizens from filing criminal or civil lawsuits against the hospital or others, such as Ms. Cox’s husband, who might have helped her obtain an abortion.

He reiterated that position in his filings with the Texas Supreme Court.

“Nothing will prevent the enforcement of Texas civil and criminal penalties after the TRO erroneously prohibiting enforcement is lifted,” a filing from his office said.

Two of the hospitals that Mr. Paxton targeted in his letter did not respond to a request for comment. The spokeswoman of the third hospital confirmed that dr. Karsan is privileged to confess, but said the hospital was “not involved in this case.”

The letter appeared to be Mr. Paxton and his subsequent legal filings have returned Ms. Cox, her doctor and others involved in her care to the same state of uncertainty and fear of prosecution that led to the original lawsuit.

The letter puts dr. Karsana “in a terrible position,” said Judy Levison, an obstetrician-gynecologist in Houston who has known Dr. Karsana. “They gave her a name and that’s scary,” she added. “He’s trying to intimidate someone into not acting.”

In Texas, the attorney general does not have the ability to bring criminal charges directly under the abortion ban and must instead rely on local district attorneys to do so.

No doctors or providers have been prosecuted for performing abortions in Texas, and only a very small number of civil lawsuits have been filed under the 2021 state bill, Senate Bill 8, which would have allowed lawsuits against abortion providers.

In several cases, doctors proceeded with abortions after determining that they were necessary and permitted by law.

“There are similar hospitals in Texas where abortions were performed, and the hospitals supported their doctors, and it was not in the public eye,” said Dr. Levison.

In the first nine months of this year, Texas recorded 34 abortion procedures statewide, according to state health statistics. In 2020, before the first strict state restrictions came into force, there were more than 56,000.

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