Texas abortion case should enrage everyone who cares about women and freedom

2023 supreme court justices

The tragic abortion case playing out right now in Texas reveals how the religious anti-abortion movement has perverted the term “pro-life.”

What is “pro-life” about forcing a Texas woman and mother, Kate Cox, to carry a wanted pregnancy that is doomed, where the fetus is incompatible with life? What is “pro-life” about gambling with her health by forcing her to continue a pregnancy going nowhere, which could jeopardize her ability to have more children in the future, as she desires?

The Texas abortion ban, one of the most draconian in the nation, allows for an exception when “in the exercise of reasonable medical judgment, the pregnant female … has a life-threatening physical condition aggravated by, caused by, or arising from a pregnancy that places the female at risk of death or poses a serious risk of substantial impairment of a major bodily function unless the abortion is performed or induced.”

Nevertheless on Monday, the Texas Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, cruelly and cavalierly overturned a lower court order allowing Cox to obtain an abortion in the state. While the Texas abortion ban allows for exceptions, said the state high court, the “good faith belief” by Cox’s doctor that the procedure was medically necessary was not enough to qualify for the exception. No, Cox must be in literal danger of losing her life for an abortion to be permissible, goes the court’s logic. Once more we see doctrinaire judges practicing medicine without a license.

Under the Texas law, a doctor convicted of performing an illegal abortion faces a prison term of up to 99 years and minimum fines of $100,000. Cox, who is more than 20 weeks pregnant, has therefore announced she will be going out of state to procure her medically necessary abortion. But how many women in Texas have the wherewithal to do the same? Prior to the abortion ban, there were 50,000 abortions annually in the state. This year through September, the New York Times reports, there were only 34 recorded abortion procedures.

Already, we are seeing bills being contemplated in some state legislatures that would bar women from traveling across state lines to procure abortions, or seek to punish those helping them do so, as Idaho’s currently litigated law does.

“The decision to decide if and whether to continue a pregnancy and become a mother or parent  is a human right that must not depend on one’s ZIP code,” maintains FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.

Among the villains in this miscarriage of justice is Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who immediately urged his state’s Supreme Court to overturn the lower court ruling that upheld Cox’s right to a medical exception. (FFRF has been a recipient of Paxton’s ire, including in 2017, when Paxton unsuccessfully attempted to interfere in FFRF’s litigation against a prayerful Texas judge, even holding a press conference targeting the state/church watchdog.)

But the biggest villain is the U.S. Supreme Court. Its Dobbs ruling pretended that in overturning Roe v. Wade, it would stop all the litigation and controversy by giving power to state legislatures to determine the fate of pregnant Americans. Instead, in overturning abortion as a federal right, it has unleashed ever more chaos and controversy, emboldening Christian nationalist legislatures and courts to deny basic medical care even to people like Kate Cox, with her wanted pregnancy gone wrong.

Commenting on the Texas Supreme Court ruling, Molly Duane, an attorney with Center for Reproductive Rights, says: “This ruling should enrage every Texan to their core,” Duane is wrong: This ruling should enrage every American to the core.

All Americans who care about our democracy and basic individual liberties must condemn this ruling and make protecting abortion rights their 2024 New Year resolution.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with 40,000 members and several chapters across the country, including more than 1,700 members and a chapter in Texas. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism. 

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