Doctors Demand Clarification on Abortion Ban Exceptions

Texas Medical Board | Image by CBS Austin
Texas Medical Board | Image by CBS Austin

Doctors and policy experts testified at a Texas Medical Board hearing on Monday with concerns about a lack of clarity on Texas’ abortion ban.

The Texas abortion ban includes exceptions for when a “medical emergency” puts the life of the mother in danger. However, some doctors claim the language is too vague and could put them at risk of prosecution. The Texas Medical Board responded to this concern in March. It proposed a rule defining “medical emergency” as “a life-threatening 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.”

The rule provided an extensive list of requirements for doctors to record before conducting a legal abortion under the medical emergency exception. It included an explanation of how doctors should determine whether an abortion is necessary and “whether there was adequate time to transfer the patient, by any means available to a facility or physician with a higher level of care or expertise to avoid performing an abortion.”

“Unfortunately, the increased requirements for documentation are truly unworkable,” Dr. Richard Todd Ivey, a Houston OB/GYN, testified at the hearing on May 20, according to The Texas Tribune. “The need for literature searches, attempts to transfer patients by any means available, documentation of how we determined a woman’s danger of death or serious risks, the need for consultations or opinions of medical ethics committees, attempts at alternative treatments and determination of a woman’s risk to support a particular method of termination. These are all incredibly cumbersome and time-consuming.”

Dr. Ingrid Skop, an OB/GYN and vice president of the anti-abortion Charlotte Lozier Institute, claimed that medical organizations had misled Texas doctors into an “irrational” belief that they were at legal risk for conducting proper care. She provided an example of how she treated a woman in Texas who had hemorrhaged from a miscarriage diagnosed two weeks prior. Skop explained that the doctor who made the diagnosis foolishly required another ultrasound before removing the fetus.

“He could have intervened and spared the woman the emotionally and physically traumatic experience that she had in my emergency room,” Skop said, per The Texas Tribune. “Stories like this abound in Texas not because of the laws but because of the failure of hospitals and medical industry organizations to provide guidance to physicians.”

Skop added that the Texas Medical Board could help clarify doctors’ concerns by better defining the exceptions to the state’s abortion law.

“Texas women are often not receiving quality care due to physician fear and misunderstanding of the laws,” Skop said, according to Fox 4 KDFW.

David Coale, a constitutional law attorney, warned in his testimony that the Texas Medical Board was limited in its ability to alter Texas’ abortion ban.

“I’d be very surprised if they added something really substantive on to this that created meaningful carve-outs and significant areas,” he said, per Fox 4. “Because that would open them up to claims they’re allowing unlawful conduct.”

The Texas Medical Board issued a statement to The Dallas Express that described the Monday hearing as “very productive.”

“The public provided the Board with several excellent suggestions about how we could clarify the rule to better support physicians as they navigate these often-complex scenarios,” the Board said. “Staff is already exploring changes to help ensure the Board’s intent is clear.”

“Whatever the final rule is, the Board recognizes that it will not satisfy everyone, nor will it alleviate every concern related to this policy matter,” the statement continued. “The Board’s ultimate goal is to provide licensees with clear insights into what the Board would consider should it receive a complaint. Our hope is that this knowledge will give providers the guidance they need to feel more secure in their decision-making while staying within the confines of the law.”

The Dallas Express reached out to every individual member of the Texas Medical Board for comment but did not hear back by publication.

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