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A Texas judge ruled that a pregnant woman who sued the state seeking an abortion can legally terminate her pregnancy

Kate Cox/AFP Handout

Originally Published: 07 DEC 23 11:14 ET Updated: 07 DEC 23 12:03 ET By Ashley Killough, Ed Lavandera and Andy Rose, CNN

(CNN) — A Texas judge ruled that a pregnant woman who sued the state seeking a court-ordered abortion can legally terminate her pregnancy.

The decision marks a significant development in the ongoing debate over the state’s medical exception to its controversial ban on abortions after six weeks – one of the strictest in the nation.

Kate Cox, who is 20 weeks pregnant, filed a lawsuit this week asking the court to temporarily block the state’s abortion ban, because she has been unable to get the procedure due to concerns of violating the law. Cox’s baby was diagnosed with trisomy 18 and is not expected to live more than a few days outside the womb, according to the suit.

Her lawsuit is believed to be one of the first attempts in the country by an individual seeking a court-ordered abortion since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year, according to the New York Times.

Cox has been to three different emergency rooms in the last month due to severe cramping and unidentifiable fluid leaks, according to her lawsuit. Cox has had two prior cesarean surgeries – C-sections – and, the suit said, “continuing the pregnancy puts her at high risk for severe complications threatening her life and future fertility, including uterine rupture and hysterectomy.”

In an emergency hearing Thursday, a judge granted a temporary restraining order against the state that would allow Cox to immediately have an abortion.

“The idea that Mrs. Cox wants desperately to be a parent, and this law might actually cause her to lose that ability is shocking and would be a genuine miscarriage of justice,” Judge Maya Guerra Gamble said. “So I will be signing the order and it will be processed and sent out today.”

Cox and her husband were present for the hearing – which took place over Zoom – and grew emotional at the judge’s decision and could be seen wiping away tears.

CNN has reached out to the state’s attorney general office for comment.

Trisomy 18, sometimes called Edwards syndrome, is a chromosomal condition that can cause heart defects and other organ abnormalities. In about half of the cases, the fetus dies before birth. Many children who are born with it die within a few days, and more than 90% die within a year.

Attorneys for the state argued Cox’s condition – as laid out in the court filings – was not severe enough to meet the state’s medical exception standard and that the judge would be essentially changing the law if she granted the temporary restraining order.

Cox’s gynecologist, Dr. Damla Karsan, has previously said she had a “good faith belief” that Cox falls under the legal exception to the abortion ban, but couldn’t provide the abortion without a court order because she “cannot risk loss of her medical license, life in prison, and massive civil fines” if her belief is not accepted by the courts.

The state allows for abortions after six weeks if a woman experiences a “medical emergency,” which is defined in the law as “a life-threatening physical condition aggravated by, caused by, or arising from a pregnancy that, as certified by a physician, places the woman in danger of death or a serious risk of substantial impairment of a major bodily function unless an abortion is performed.”

A group of 20 women and two physicians have been fighting the state in a separate lawsuit over the medical exception this year, arguing the language in the law is unclear and causes doctors to refrain from performing abortions in serious cases due to a lack of clarity in the law.

Before the Texas Supreme Court last week, an attorney with the state’s attorney general office argued the law was clear and that if women with life-threatening medical issues were not receiving abortions, then it should be considered negligence on the doctor’s part.

Cox said that although she has gone to the emergency room three times with severe cramping, the law is too vague to make clear whether an abortion under those circumstances would be legal.

“I do not want to continue the pain and suffering that has plagued this pregnancy. I do not want to put my body through the risks of continuing this pregnancy,” Cox said in a statement released by the Center for Reproductive Rights, which filed the lawsuit in Travis County.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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