Texas’ abortion law maximizes suffering

A protester dressed as a handmaiden holds up a sign at a protest outside the Texas state capitol on May 29, 2021, in Austin, Texas. (Sergio Flores/Getty Images/TNS)

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has chosen chauvinist power over the health of a Texan in need.

Kate Cox, a Dallas mother of two, was excited to learn she was pregnant with her third child. But at 20 weeks, that excitement turned to heartbreak as she learned the fetus had trisomy 18, a chromosomal abnormality that leads almost all pregnancies to end in stillbirth or miscarriage. The prognosis for those born alive is equally bleak. As Cox indicated, it is not if she will need to say goodbye to her child, but when.


When the United States Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and allowed each state to decide on the legality of abortion, it put the health and lives of millions of women in jeopardy. Ultraconservative states like Texas — which already had an abortion prohibition enacted before the Civil War that Roe rendered unenforceable — jumped at the opportunity to once again control women’s bodies. Texas’ current abortion law criminalizes performing an abortion from the moment a heartbeat is detected, unless the pregnant patient is facing “a life-threatening physical condition aggravated by, caused by or arising from a pregnancy.”

Cox sued for her right to obtain an abortion, arguing that the law allows abortions for medical emergencies such as the one she was experiencing. She also cited her desire to terminate her pregnancy because she wanted to have more children in the future, and to be around for the two children she currently has. Her argument runs directly counter to the narrative most anti-abortion lawmakers push — that people want to terminate a pregnancy because they simply don’t want a child.

Provided that Cox’s fetus has a well-established medical condition in which the viability of a live birth is minimal, and that she has demonstrated that carrying this child puts her life at risk, one would think that she is a solid candidate for an emergency abortion under the law. A Travis County judge certainly saw it that way. District Judge Maya Guerra Gamble issued a temporary restraining order allowing Cox to obtain a medically necessary abortion.

After Gamble compassionately issued her ruling, Paxton responded in a letter addressed to three hospitals, stating the temporary order would “not insulate hospitals, doctors, or anyone else, from civil and criminal liability for violating Texas’ abortion laws.” In plainer terms, he threatened the doctors who may perform this necessary abortion with up to 99 years in prison. In the letter, Paxton said Cox had not sufficiently shown a medical need for the abortion. Using this same argument, Paxton used his influence to petition the state’s Supreme Court to hear the case.

This is a position seen far too often in abortion arguments. Politicians and anti-abortion activists claim to know better than the patient and medical professionals when it comes to what is best for a pregnant person’s health. In this case Paxton also claims to know better than the judge who weighed the evidence and applied the law as written. Paxton has done all he can do to ensure Cox suffers to the fullest extent possible.

The Texas Supreme Court issued a ruling on Dec. 11 effectively rubber-stamping Paxton’s opposition to the life-saving procedure. The high court disingenuously argued that Cox’s lawyers failed to note it was in the doctor’s “reasonable medical judgment” that the pregnancy threatened Cox’s life. The court sided with Paxton and arbitrarily held that Cox did not show the requisite threat to life necessary to warrant an abortion, while ironically noting that it should be doctors, not judges, who make this decision.

Paxton is not an outlier — when anti-abortion radicals continue their assault on women’s rights, they are seeking power. Abortion rights groups have long warned that this is the true motivation. Paxton has provided an obvious example.