On Monday, Kate Cox, a pregnant Texas woman locked in a legal battle over her state’s abortion ban, will leave the state to receive potentially lifesaving abortion treatment. New data shows Cox, who is 21 weeks pregnant and whose fetus was recently diagnosed with a genetic disorder, is part of what pro-abortion-rights advocates are calling a “dehumanizing” surge of people crossing state lines seeking reproductive care after Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark ruling that legalized abortion nationwide, was overturned in June 2022.
“Kate desperately wanted to be able to get care where she lives and recover at home surrounded by family,” Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights that represents Cox, said in a tweet. “While Kate had the ability to leave the state, most people do not, and a situation like this could be a death sentence.”
According to the latest data from the Guttmacher Institute — a pro-abortion-rights research group — a little over 92,000 people in the U.S. traveled to other states in the first half of 2023 to receive abortion care, more than double the 40,600 who did the same during a similar period in 2020. The December report, which provides monthly estimates of abortions performed by a formal U.S. health care system, attributes the uptick in travel to post-Roe abortion laws.
“It is outrageous and dehumanizing that Kate Cox is being forced to flee her home state to access the abortion care she needs and deserves,” Kimya Forouzan, principal policy associate for state issues at the Guttmacher Institute, said in a statement to Yahoo News. “No one should ever be forced to seek permission from a judge or forced to take on the emotional, financial and logistical barriers of traveling out of state to access an abortion.”
On Nov. 28, the 31-year-old mother of two had prenatal testing that confirmed a diagnosis of trisomy 18, a genetic condition that puts her fetus at risk of death.
After the diagnosis, Cox’s doctors informed her that getting an abortion was the safest option to protect her health and future fertility, according to the lawsuit, but warned her that no doctor in the state would be likely to provide the procedure due to Texas’s laws. Texas criminalizes performing an abortion after six weeks of gestation unless the person has “a life-threatening physical condition aggravated by, caused by, or arising from a pregnancy.”
Cox filed a lawsuit on Dec. 5 that sought a temporary restraining order on the state’s ban on abortion.
Last Thursday, District Court Judge Maya Guerra Gamble granted her request for an order, allowing Cox to have an abortion under the medical exemption rule. But Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, in a petition, urged the Texas Supreme Court to block the order. In Paxton’s filing, he said Cox did not meet the criteria for a medical exception. Paxton also sent a letter to three hospitals where Dr. Damla Karsan, the gynecologist who said she would perform Cox’s abortion if authorized under the temporary order, could admit patients. The attorney general threatened to prosecute any providers involved in performing an abortion to a patient.
Local governments in Texas like Lubbock County, near New Mexico where abortion has not been outlawed, have also attempted to prohibit traveling for abortion care. But legal experts doubt that the ordinances will be enforced. The Guttmacher Institute study says that New Mexico, which also borders Oklahoma, another state where abortion is generally banned, experienced the largest increase of patients traveling for abortion care.
“Kate Cox’s story exposes the undeniable cruelty of Texas’ abortion ban — and all abortion bans — for what it is,” Forouzan said. “This devastating story shows that we cannot rely on exceptions to abortion bans to guarantee care for anyone. The only way to ensure access to those experiencing severe pregnancy complications and everyone else is to end all restrictions on abortion.”
Cox’s lawyer said in a Texas Supreme Court filing that Cox intends to continue her lawsuit.