When Kate Cox was forced to flee Texas after state authorities denied her pleas to terminate a potentially deadly pregnancy, it laid bare the true cost of state control over women’s reproductive health. It’s also made plain that Republicans — despite their claims to hold the moral high ground on abortion — cannot defend the policies they champion when they present real-world consequences.
Cox, whose 21-week-old fetus was diagnosed with a deadly genetic condition, had been in and out of emergency rooms as her already complicated pregnancy deteriorated her health and threatened her own life and future fertility. Earlier this month, Cox, already a mother of two, became the first woman to sue Texas in hopes of securing an exemption from the state’s near-total ban on abortions in the case of life-threatening conditions during pregnancy. Travis County Judge Maya Guerra Gamble granted Cox’s request, but Texas authorities had other plans. State Attorney General Ken Paxton went so far as to threaten Cox’s doctors with civil and criminal penalties if they performed an abortion, and escalated her case to the state Supreme Court, which stayed Guerra Gamble’s ruling. Cox ultimately fled Texas to seek medical care in another state, and the court denied her request on Monday.
As the case garnered national attention, Republican lawmakers were reticent to defend the laws that put Cox in such a dire position. Given the GOP’s ongoing struggle to reconcile their commitment to the nationwide destruction of reproductive rights with the reality that said commitment is costing them elections, Cox’s case represents a fundamental — extremely public — challenge to the ethos of the “pro-life” party.
Despite being staunch anti-abortion advocates, Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, Texas’ Republican senators, repeatedly avoided directly addressing Cox’s situation when questioned by NBC News.
“I’m not a state official, so I’m not going to comment on what state officials are doing. I’m happy to comment on anything that I’m responsible for,” said Cornyn, a former member of the Texas Supreme Court, which ruled against Cox on Monday.
Cruz ducked NBC’s requests for comments on the matter at least three times, referring them to his Senate press office when reached via phone. He also declined to answer in-person questions from the network on Wednesday.
WATCH: Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) dodges questions on Kate Cox, a Texas woman who was seeking an exception to the state’s abortion ban.@GarrettHaake: "Senator, what’s your view on the Kate Cox case?"
Cruz: “Just call our press office.”
Haake: “We’ve done that several times.” pic.twitter.com/9iKipitLyT
— Meet the Press (@MeetThePress) December 13, 2023
Republican presidential candidate and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has signed a strict six-week abortion ban in his own state, called the situation “difficult” during a CNN town hall on Wednesday. “We’ve got to approach these issues with compassion, because these are very difficult issues,” DeSantis said.
“These things get a lot of press attention,” he added. “But that’s a very small percentage that those exceptions cover … there’s a lot of other situations where we have an opportunity to realize really good human potential, and we’ve worked to protect as many lives as we could in Florida.”
DeSantis’ fellow 2024 Republican hopefuls made similarly vague statements when asked for their views on Cox’s case.
Vivek Ramaswamy told NBC News that he believes abortion rights are a state issue. Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley told ABC News over the weekend that while she didn’t know “the details of the case,” she doesn’t “think that this issue needed to be in the hands of unelected justices.”
“We’re watching states make these decisions. Some states are going more pro-life. I welcome that,” she added. “Some states are going more on the choice side. I wish that wasn’t the case, but the people decide.”
On Wednesday, during an interview with CNN, Haley gave a slightly more direct answer to questioning about Cox, avoiding outright condemnation of her treatment by Texas authorities but conceding that her situation was an example of why Republicans should approach abortion restrictions “with compassion.”
“My heart breaks for her,” Haley said, adding that states like Texas should look to improve the mechanisms through which women can request exemptions from state-level abortion restrictions. “I think all of these states need to tweak it in a way that our number one goal is ‘how do you save as many babies as possible and support as many moms as possible,’” she said.
Abortion has been a defining issue in midterm elections and state ballot measures held in the 18 months since Roe v. Wade was overturned, and promises to be a major driver of voter turnout in the 2024 general election. The GOP’s hesitancy to endorse the hardline policies being wielded against Cox in Texas is clear among Republican lawmakers running in vulnerable 2024 districts, who are concerned that their party’s national efforts to restrict abortions could destroy their chances for reelection.
The Supreme Court’s decision earlier this week to take up a challenge to the FDA’s approval of prescription abortion medication isn’t going to make things easier for these vulnerable Republicans. One such unnamed House member told Axios that the Supreme Court is “tone deaf” for taking up the case.
Rep. Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.), another vulnerable Republican, told Axios that the court “should leave it to the states and the FDA to make these decisions. If it’s legal in a certain state, they shouldn’t be saying you can’t utilize that type of medicine.” Rep. Marc Molinaro (R-N.Y.) echoed the sentiment, saying that he is concerned “that the courts overly impose their will.”
RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel insisted in November that the Republican Party is in step with the everyday American, and can win on “common-sense limitations” to abortion access. But when voters watch cases like Cox’s play out on the national stage, and see Republicans bend over backward to avoid condemning the medical torture of a woman losing her child, it becomes clear there’s nothing sensical about the GOP’s crusade to destroy the right to reproductive autonomy — and that they themselves can justify the practical implementation of their own laws.