Nicole Russell: Paxton's threat to doctors over abortion to save woman isn't pro-life

Nicole Russell, Fort Worth Star-Telegram on

Published in Op Eds

A culture and legal system that is pro-life is healthy for Texans, for Americans, and a society that hopes to value life, from conception to natural death and continue to thrive.

However, life is messy and imperfect. Texas law after the fall of Roe vs. Wade makes only a narrow, rare exception for abortion — to save a woman’s life. That robust pro-life law, and heartbreaking reality have now intersected in the case of Kate Cox, a Dallas area resident, and Attorney General Ken Paxton’s interpretation of the law.

A Travis County judge granted Cox’s petition to have an abortion, due to her unusual circumstances. Paxton said in a news release Thursday that even the judge’s order to allow the abortion to proceed “will not insulate hospitals, doctors, or anyone else, from civil and criminal liability for violating Texas’ abortion laws.”

This is a lose-lose situation for everyone, most of all for Cox. Paxton’s punitive statement seems anathema to the pro-life movement that enacted Texas’ abortion ban.

Cox is a 31-year-old married mother of two, at about 20 weeks along with a third pregnancy that she and her husband were excited about until the couple learned through multiple tests, screenings, and ultrasound, that their precious unborn baby has a litany of health problems.

The baby has a single umbilical artery where there should be two, a “spine abnormality” probably due to spina bifida, and full trisomy 18, which could result in miscarriage, a stillborn death or death immediately after birth – although a small percentage of babies born with this defect live until their teen years with continuous care.

Even for most pro-life advocates, including myself, this is not a reason for abortion, but it is an example of a rare circumstance in which a baby’s birth can be challenging, if not painful. This is one of the reasons Cox petitioned to have an abortion, but not the only one — and not the most compelling one.

Cox’s doctors contend she is in grave danger. According to the complaint, she has experienced cramping, has gone to the emergency room three times, once leaking amniotic fluid. According to her doctors, she is at risk of uterine rupture due to previous cesarean surgeries. She also has elevated glucose and is at risk for gestational diabetes, and other complications. Her doctors worry about her ability to conceive again if she is forced to have another c-section.

Most abortions are performed on young women in their 20s and 30s and before 10 weeks’ gestation. Most don’t want to raise a child or don’t think they will be suitable parents. This is obviously not the case for Cox.

From every vantage point, this is an awful scenario. If Cox is forced to go through with the pregnancy and survives, her baby could die and she may struggle to conceive again. If Cox is allowed to have an abortion, she still loses her baby. She may not conceive again. For a mother — for parents who desire children — both of these are heartbreaking. This is the reality of life that all laws about abortion attempt to address.


Paxton’s attempt to enforce the law is understandable from a legal standpoint but stunning from a medical, empathetic or even optical view. The punitive nature of Texas’ law was always a bridge too far and anathema to the pro-life movement which seeks to aid mothers in keeping, loving and raising their precious children. Life is the goal, not fear. A law that seeks to punish a doctor for trying to keep her patient alive and healthy is not wise or good.

According to the medical providers caring for Cox, she is the medical emergency. The law defines an exception 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.”

How many times must Cox go to the emergency room to prove to the attorney general that her condition fits that exception? Per the exception and the doctors’ assessment, Cox shouldn’t even have to appeal to a court. But the law is so vague and medical providers are so concerned about lawsuits, she petitioned anyway. This is why Texas’ abortion law is in desperate need of clarification.

My fellow conservatives may argue: “This is a political ploy to skirt the law and get an unnecessary abortion.” From the looks of the complaint, this isn’t a rabid abortion advocate. Cox will by all accounts be devastated to have an abortion as many mothers are.

Some will say: “This will set a precedent and now everyone will be asking for an abortion for ‘medical emergencies.’ ” Texas’ abortion ban has been in effect for 16 months, and there’s been one major lawsuit that includes 20 women — in a state of around 12 million adult women — requesting a court to intervene.

What about “Allowing an abortion to save a mother’s life is never a medical necessity.” This has some credence; such cases are exceedingly rare. The most ethical choice is to try to save both lives. In Cox’s case, her doctor says her health and future fertility are at risk while pregnant. Does Paxton want to be on record challenging doctors on this? How do his legal threats promote the pro-life cause?

Laws are not perfect, and neither is life. Cox’s situation is heartbreaking, no matter what happens.


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