Molly Butler / Media Matters

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Anti-abortion media attacked a Texas woman seeking an emergency abortion, likening the procedure to eugenics

Last week, a pregnant woman named Kate Cox, whose fetus has a lethal diagnosis, sued Texas to receive a medical exception to the state’s abortion bans. Though a lower state court granted Cox’s request, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton asked the state’s Supreme Court to intervene, and the higher court paused, and later revoked, the decision. Anti-abortion media responded to the lawsuit by demonizing all forms of abortion, with some claiming that terminating a pregnancy based on such a fatal diagnosis amounts to eugenics.

  • A Texas woman who was granted an emergency abortion after a lethal fetal diagnosis later had her exemption revoked 

    • Kate Cox asked a Texas state court to grant her an exception to the state’s abortion ban after her fetus was diagnosed with a fatal genetic disorder and doctors informed Cox the disorder, Trisomy 18, also puts her own life at risk. Cox reported visiting the emergency room three times within a month during her pregnancy due to “severe cramping and unidentifiable fluid leaks.” Texas law allows abortions only when “a life-threatening physical condition ... places the woman in danger of death or a serious risk of substantial impairment of a major bodily function.” The Center for Reproductive Health noted that Cox was “seeking an emergency abortion to protect her health, life, and future fertility,” especially as she faces greater health risks due to two previous cesarean sections. [Texas Tribune, 12/7/23; USA Today, 12/6/23; Center for Reproductive Rights, 12/5/23]
    • 95% percent of pregnancies with fetuses diagnosed with Trisomy 18, or Edwards syndrome, will end in a miscarriage or in stillbirth. According to the Cleveland Clinic: “Life expectancy for children diagnosed with Edwards syndrome is short due to several life-threatening complications of the condition. Children who survive past their first year may face severe intellectual challenges.” [Cleveland Clinic, accessed 12/11/23]
    • On December 8, the Texas Supreme Court paused a temporary order from a lower court that would have allowed Cox to receive an abortion. The state’s attorney general, Ken Paxton, who petitioned the state’s Supreme Court to put the lower court order on hold, also threatened legal action against any hospital that complied with the lower court’s decision to grant Cox an abortion. [The New Republic, 12/7/23; CNN, 12/9/23]
    • On Monday, the Center for Reproductive Rights confirmed that Cox had to travel out of state for abortion care due to compounding health risks. In a statement, the president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, who represented Cox, noted that she had “been in and out of the emergency room and she couldn’t wait any longer.” [Jezebel, 12/11/23]
    • Hours after the Center for Reproductive Rights announced that Cox had traveled out of state for abortion care, the Texas Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s ruling, revoking Cox’s exemption to receive an abortion. [CNN, 12/12/23]
  • Anti-abortion media figures are using the story to demonize abortion and criticize the emergency order temporarily granted to Cox

    • Kristan Hawkins, leader of the anti-abortion group Students for Life of America, decried the situation as “eugenics and selfishness.” Hawkins mocked Cox’s motivations for seeking an abortion and described her thinking as, “I don't have to have to watch my child die in front of me, so I'm going to pay someone to kill her now.” [Twitter/X, 12/7/23]
    • Deirdre Cooper, a policy analyst with the anti-abortion group Texas Alliance for Life, said terminating a pregnancy because of fetal abnormalities amounts to “discrimination.” “Once given a fatal diagnosis, parents are now on a unique journey of preparing for the death of a beloved child,” Cooper told the Houston Chronicle. “But abortion robs that child of the chance at life, no matter how short.” [Houston Chronicle, 12/7/23]
    • Anti-abortion activist Abby Johnson: “A child is worthy of life even when its biological parents don’t want it.” She continued, “A child is worthy of life when they have special needs. Abortion is always wrong because every child is worthy of life.” [Twitter/X, 12/8/23]
    • Lauren Muzyka, president and CEO of the anti-abortion group Sidewalk Advocates for Life, praised the Texas Supreme Court for affirming that “there's never a reason to directly kill a baby to preserve mom's life.” She also wrote, “Trisomy 18 is not a reason to murder a child.” [Twitter/X, 12/9/23]
    • Family Research Council President Tony Perkins called Cox’s situation “tragic” but asserted that “allowing an abortionist to kill her [the fetus] will only magnify the pain and suffering this family is experiencing.” [Twitter/X, 12/11/23]
    • Anti-abortion outlet Live Action News argued that while fetuses diagnosed with Trisomy 18 often do not survive birth, “every single child is a gift and their lives should be honored with love rather than being tossed aside as unworthy.” [Twitter/X, 12/7/23]
    • After a lower state court ruled in Cox’s favor — a ruling that was later put on hold — anti-abortion outlet Life News published an article titled “Texas Judge rules a baby can be killed in abortion just because the baby is disabled.” The article also claimed that there was “significant question about whether the baby has Trisomy 18 in the first place … because prenatal tests often fail.” [Life News, 12/7/23]
    • Live Action founder Lila Rose: “Very sick or disabled unborn babies don’t deserve the abortionists lethal needle or forceps—they deserve medical care, & in the cases needed, neonatal palliative care.” [Twitter/X, 12/10/23]
    • Texas Alliance for Life posted: “Center for Reproductive Rights advocating for aborting disabled babies is like Margaret Sanger saying we need to exterminate minorities and aim for a cleaner race. Eugenics by any other name is still eugenics.” [Twitter/X, 12/9/23]
    • EWTN Global Catholic Network radio host Grazie Pozo Christie called abortion “assassination” while also acknowledging that Trisomy 18 is “incompatible with life.” “There’s another option, which is to end the pregnancy through a delivery and love the baby until the end,” she added. [Twitter/X, 12/7/23]
  • Anti-abortion media’s reaction to the story follows decades of likening abortion to eugenics

    • The anti-abortion movement has long accused Planned Parenthood, the country’s largest provider of abortions, of supporting eugenics. In the early 1900s, Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood’s parent organization, rallied behind eugenics, but Planned Parenthood has publicly denounced Sanger and her views about race and eugenics for years. [Media Matters, 10/3/22]
    • After the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, some figures in right-wing media claimed that pro-choice advocates had a “eugenics mentality” and that they were “proposing … eugenics.” [Media Matters, 6/24/22]
    • When Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen commented that overturning Roe v. Wade “would have damaging effects on the economy and would set women back decades,” right-wing media figures claimed that Yellen was advocating for eugenics and “getting rid of the undesirables.’” [Media Matters, 5/13/22]