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Medical board tries to clarify exceptions to Texas' ban on abortions

The Texas medical board met Friday to discuss a proposed rule to provide clearer guidance to doctors about medical exceptions for abortions.
Medical board tries to clarify exceptions to Texas' ban on abortions
Posted at 7:33 PM, Mar 22, 2024

Several Texans are fighting to clarify the state's restrictive abortion law that some lawyers argue is so unclear, it could kill people.

The Texas medical board met Friday to discuss a proposed rule to provide clearer guidance to doctors about which medical exceptions exist for an abortion as multiple women sue the state for denying them abortion care amidst dangerous pregnancies.

Two Texas attorneys and lobbyists, Amy and Steven Bresnen filed a petition to the Texas medical board to create clearer guidance as to when the state would allow abortions under its restrictive laws. Doctors currently face criminal prosecution if they perform an abortion once they find a heartbeat.

"I'm talking about abortions where there is no choice, the mother will die," said Amy Bresnen. 

"They're facing death and they're scared to death," her husband, Steven Bresnen, followed.

The Bresnens filed their petition after Texas' Supreme Court denied Kate Cox's request for an abortion despite doctors warning her fetus would not survive pregnancy. Cox had no choice but to leave the state to get the procedure.

But in its ruling, the Texas Supreme Court asked the medical board to issue clearer guidelines.

On Friday, Texas' medical board proposed a general definition for a "medical emergency," calling it "a life-threatening condition aggravated by, caused by or arising from a pregnancy that is certified by a physician places the woman in danger of death or a serious impairment or a major bodily function unless an abortion is performed."

SEE MORE: Abortions increase in 2023 despite Roe v. Wade reversal

The board also deferred to doctors to use their best "medical judgment made by a reasonably prudent physician knowledgeable about a case and the treatment possibilities for the medical conditions involved."

The board also listed ways doctors could prove an abortion was necessary, through testing, second opinions and failed alternative treatments.

But some argue the definition isn't specific enough and won't do enough to change conditions.

The Center for Reproductive Rights says the board's current proposal falls short of clarifying medical exceptions to Texas's abortion ban and contains "more of the same rhetoric" they've heard for years.

"The proposed rules also create a new and extremely burdensome documentation system that physicians must use when providing abortions under the exception. This is not what medical providers and patients need," Molly Duane, a senior staff attorney told Scripps News in a statement. 

Scripps News reached out to Attorney General Ken Paxton for comment on the board's proposed rule but has not heard back yet.

Taylor Edwards is one of 20 women and two doctors suing Texas over being denied abortion care during dangerous pregnancies. She told the board her fetus was also given a fatal diagnosis, but her doctors said they were unable to give her an abortion because they risked life in prison, forcing Edwards to find care in another state. 

"The last two years, our doctors have no guidance on what to do, [and it] has caused so much suffering," Edwards said through tears.

Anti-abortion activists, like Rebecca Weaver with Texas Right to Life, also say doctors need clearer rules on when exceptions don't violate Texas' abortion ban.

"This confusion is unnecessary, and we are pleased you have chosen to help clear the confusion," Weaver said.

The Texas public now has 30 days to submit comments before the medical board decides on a final rule. They'll likely revisit the rule in June.

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