AUSTIN (Nexstar) — After a Travis County judge granted an emergency request on Thursday to allow a Texas woman to seek an abortion, Attorney General Ken Paxton petitioned the Texas Supreme Court to block the order. Late Friday night, the state’s high court sided with Paxton, temporarily putting the order on hold.
“Without regard to the merits, the Court administratively stays the district court’s December 7, 2023 order,” the high court’s order states. That means the state’s Supreme Court is still considering the broader legal question, but putting a pause on the order until the justices fully weigh the case.
The order did not give a timeline for when a decision could come.
Kate Cox, a 31-year-old mother of two young children in Dallas, filed suit against the state last week. Cox is pregnant, and said a screening revealed her baby has full trisomy 18 — a fatal chromosomal condition causing deformities and growth delays in fetal development.
“It is not a matter of if I will have to say goodbye, but when. I do not want to continue the pain and suffering that has plagued this pregnancy,” Cox said in a petition to a Travis County district court. “I do not want my baby to arrive in this world only to watch her suffer a heart attack or suffocation. I desperately want the chance to try for another baby and want to access the medical care now that gives me the best chance at another baby.”
According to the petition, Cox’s physicians told her their “hands are tied” because of Texas’ abortion bans.
“She will have to wait until her baby dies inside her or carry the pregnancy to term, at which point she will be forced to have a third C-section, only to watch her baby suffer until death,” the petition states.
Judge Maya Guerra Gamble announced her decision to allow Cox to seek an abortion after a virtual hearing Thursday morning. In that hearing, lawyers representing the State of Texas argued against granting a temporary restraining order, or TRO. Attorney Johnathan Stone said allowing Cox to get an abortion amounted to a permanent decision.
“The abortion once performed is permanent. It can’t be undone,” Stone told the judge.
Texas Right to Life accuses the lawsuit of “seek[ing] to conflate two separate issues: the risk to the mother and the child’s disability.” They argue a baby with trisomy 18 should be born and live until natural death.
“Ms. Cox’s story is heartbreaking because all of us recognize that she and her child are equally valuable and loved by God,” Texas Right to Life Communications Director Kimberly Schwartz said. “If you feel compassion for this situation like us, it is because we all know that there are two lives at stake and that both are supremely important. The answer is not to end the child’s life because of the baby’s disability, but state law does anticipate the serious risk to the mother.”
For now, the order is on hold while the Texas Supreme Court considers the case.
“While we still hope that the Court ultimately rejects the state’s request and does so quickly, in this case we fear that justice delayed will be justice denied,” said Molly Duane, senior staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights, in a press release sent Friday night. “We are talking about urgent medical care. Kate is already 20 weeks pregnant. This is why people should not need to beg for healthcare in a court of law.”
Cox’s suit aligns closely with Zurawski v. Texas, another challenge to Texas’ abortion ban seeking clarification to the law’s medical exceptions. In that case, 20 women, many of whom nearly died due to pregnancy complications, argued in front of the Texas Supreme Court that the law does not give proper deference to a doctor’s good-faith medical judgment.
The Center for Reproductive Rights is leading both cases. Duane argued the case before the Texas Supreme Cout. Dr. Damla Karsan, an OB-GYN in Houston, is a plaintiff in both. She is suing for the right to use perform abortions when she deems them medically necessary.
“In Dr. Karsan’s experience, widespread fear and confusion regarding the scope of Texas’s abortion bans have chilled the provision of necessary obstetric care, including abortion care,” the petition states.
Kate Cox’s husband, Justin Cox, is also a plaintiff in the suit. The petition states he “hopes to assist his wife in obtaining the abortion,” but he fears retribution under Senate Bill 8, which subjects him to civil liability.
Paxton highlighted the potential of legal action under SB 8 in a notice sent to Cox’s doctors on Thursday. He also said state law allows for punishment, including prison time, regardless of a temporary order from a judge.
“The TRO will not insulate you, or anyone else, from civil and criminal liability…including first degree felony prosecutions,” Paxton wrote in the letter.
Texas GOP criticized over executive committee vote
The Texas Republican Party is under scrutiny after a vote by its executive committee to reject a measure barring the party from associating with known “anti-Semites” and “Nazi sympathizers.”
In a narrow 32-29 vote last weekend, the state Republican executive committee agreed to not adopt an amendment to a resolution that called for “no association whatsoever” with individuals “known to espouse anti-Semitism, pro-Nazi sympathies, or Holocaust denial.”
It comes months after the controversial meeting between Texas GOP chairman Matt Rinaldi and prominent white supremacist Nick Fuentes. Fuentes is known to hold racist, antisemitic and misogynistic views.
During the Saturday meeting, members grappled over defining terms like “Nazi” and “anti-Semite,” with some arguing that those terms were difficult to define and could be subjective.
In rare public agreeance, both Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dade Phelan condemned the decision in statements on social media. Phelan called the vote “despicable” and Patrick in-part applauded their approval of the main pro-Israel resolution, and expressed confidence that they will correct their other vote in a future meeting.
“I, and the overwhelming majority of Republicans in Texas, do not tolerate antisemites, and those who deny the Holocaust, praise Hitler or the Nazi regime,” Patrick wrote. “[They] can’t even bring themselves to denounce neo-Nazis and Holocaust deniers or cut ties with their top donor who brought them to the dance. There is a moral, anti-Semitic rot festering within the fringes of BOTH parties that must be stopped.”
Rinaldi defended the GOP’s stance on social media, re-sharing posts on X, formerly known as Twitter, that noted the pro-Israel resolution the SREC did pass.
“No one who has observed reality in this country believes the GOP is a material source of anti-Semitism,” Rinaldi wrote on X.
Conversely, the head of the Texas Democratic Party, Gilbert Hinojosa, characterized the GOP’s decision as “reckless,” particularly in light of the Democratic Party passing a weekend resolution calling for a ceasefire and the release of all hostages in an ongoing conflict.
“There is no place in Texas for hate and the current Republican Party leadership in Texas has set a place at the head of their table for hate,” said Hinojosa in a media advisory. “That’s why I’m calling on the Republican Party of Texas Chairman Matt Rinaldi and every elected official on the Republican on the Senate Republican executive committee that agrees with this vile white supremacist ideology to resign immediately. This is not something that our state should have among its political leadership.”
Despite the backlash, the Republican Party points to other resolutions approved by the committee. These resolutions affirmed “unwavering” support for Israel and denounced “all forms of anti-Semitism.” The party argues that these resolutions demonstrate its commitment to specific values, even as the controversy surrounding associations with known Nazi sympathizers persists.
‘A unique point of leverage’ — Sen. Cornyn defends vote against Ukraine aid to boost border policy push
Tens of billions of dollars in emergency foreign aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan are being threatened amid a clash between U.S. Senate Democrats and Republicans over border policy, as GOP negotiators demand border and immigration changes in the package.
On Wednesday, the Senate failed to pass the defense aid package in a 49-51 vote. While the money for foreign allies has garnered bipartisan support in the upper chamber, Senate Republicans are blocking the package to gain leverage in their demands for including overhauls to border an immigration issues.
A classified briefing Tuesday for senators to discuss the White House’s request for Israel and Ukraine aid resulted in heated discussions and many Republican members storming out of the meeting. Much of the opposition to the legislation amongst senators is due to the lack of border security language.
“This is a unique circumstance where there are things that I support in the package, but I can’t and won’t support that proceeding to that until we get a satisfactory answer to the policy changes that we need at the border,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, in an interview with Nexstar prior to the vote.
Republicans have argued border reform is a national security issue and should therefore be in the package. The White House has warned Ukraine’s war effort against Russia could be hurt if it does not get the defense money it needs.
On Wednesday, President Joe Biden said he is willing to make “significant compromises” on border policy in pursuit of the goal of getting urgent funding to the nation’s foreign allies. The White House offered Congress more than $13 billion to help clear up the asylum backlog, adding more immigration judges and border agents, but Republican negotiators have said it’s not enough.
Cornyn is no stranger to brokering deals on tough bipartisan policy issues, but did not seem willing to fold on his party’s demands.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, unveiled the $110.5 billion national security supplemental funding package on Tuesday, outlining the importance of delivering humanitarian assistance within the Israel-Hamas War, efforts to stop fentanyl from entering the U.S., and more, over border security legislation.
“It’s past time for Senators to stop tying partisan and extreme immigration proposals to a broadly bipartisan supplemental,” Murray said in a statement. “I urge my colleagues to realize that continuing to delay passage of a serious security supplemental—or failing to pass one—would be a massive gift to Putin, the Chinese Communist Party, and our adversaries around the world.”
Contrarily, Cornyn said he saw this as a point of leverage to address “the failure of the Biden administration’s policies.”
“We’re going to insist on policy changes to prevent the asylum system from being abused and to stop this practice of catch and release, which has resulted in so many people being released into the United States,” Cornyn said. “Given the porous nature of the border and the people coming across both known and unknown, I think this is a very dangerous situation.”
Cornyn said the vote puts the onus on Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to work with Republicans.
“He’s got a choice to make. Is he going to get the aid for Israel and Ukraine? And if so, then it’s going to cost him some policy changes on the border that help states like Texas and the entire country deal with this incredible humanitarian and public safety crisis,” Cornyn said.
Following the vote, Schumer, D-New York, slammed Republicans for not being “serious” with their intentions.
“Tonight is a sad night in the history of Senate and the history of our country,” Schumer said. “If Republicans in the Senate do not get serious very soon about a national security package, Vladmir Putin is going to walk right through Ukraine and right through Europe.”
Schumer and the Democrats offered Republicans to vote on amendment on any border package they wanted as a resolution prior to the vote, but Republicans refused to move forward with that. Schumer said the offer still stands for Republicans and hopes legislators will break this impasse soon.
Texas judge makes history after confirmation vote
The U.S. Senate confirmed Irma Carrillo Ramirez to serve on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit on Monday. She becomes the first Latina to serve on the court.
Ramirez, a native Texan, has served as a judge in the Northern District of Texas since 2002. President Joe Biden nominated Ramirez to the Fifth Circuit in April.
Ramirez’s appointment came with bipartisan support in the U.S. Senate, which voted in her favor 80-17. When she was nominated, both of Texas’ U.S. Senators — Cornyn and Ted Cruz, R-TX — expressed their strong support for her nomination.
Ramirez had her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee back in May, where she spoke about the importance of diversity in the courtroom.
“A judiciary that is representative of the community it serves instills confidence in our system of justice,” Ramirez said. “Before I was a judge, a little girl asked me if girls could be judges too. And the hundreds of students that I’ve spoken to since then only confirms that what I show them speaks far more loudly than what I say to them.”
During the confirmation hearing, Ramirez told senators about her family history. Her father came to the United States to work in the cotton fields of west Texas. She said her father wanted a better life for her.
“I remember as a child very vividly [my father] telling me ‘estudia mija’ — study — so that you don’t have to work in the fields like I do,” Ramirez said. “My summers spent hoeing cotton in those fields only served to reinforce his message. Becoming a judge, or even a lawyer was so far beyond his hope of an inside job for me that we couldn’t begin to imagine it much less dream it.”
Senator Cornyn clarified that by “inside job” Ramirez was referring to a job where there was air conditioning.
“I know that’s motivated many of us to pursue our education, the opportunity to work indoors in air conditioning in the hot Texas summers,” Cornyn said. “In many ways, Judge Ramirez’s life and career exemplify the American dream. She’s earned the respect of virtually every person with whom she has crossed paths, including myself and Senator Cruz.”
The Fifth Circuit is based in New Orleans and covers Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.