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Texas Medical Board plans to discuss guidance for emergency exceptions to state abortion laws

Protesters rally at a demonstration in 2022 after the Supreme Court's decision that overturned Roe v. Wade.
Patricia Lim
KUT News
Protesters rally at a demonstration in 2022 after the Supreme Court's decision that overturned Roe v. Wade.

The Texas Medical Board said it will develop formal guidance for physicians about how to interpret the medical exception to the state's abortion laws.

The board, which regulates medical practice in the state, had been silent on the issue amid calls for clarity from reproductive health advocates after abortion was banned.

Austin attorneys Steve and Amy Bresnen petitioned the TMB in January, asking it to provide physicians and Texas women specific guidance about when emergency abortions are allowed. The request followed a Texas Supreme Court decision in Cox v. Texas, in which the court said the TMB could do more to clear up "any confusion that currently prevails.”

Abortion is illegal in Texas except when pregnancy is contributing to a “life-threatening physical condition” that could cause death or impairment to a major bodily function. The law does not give parameters, however, for what medical conditions or circumstances might qualify under this caveat.

Physicians are told to use their “reasonable medical judgment” when assessing if an emergency abortion is needed. But they risk 99 years of prison time, hefty fines and the loss of their medical license if they provide an abortion that is found to be illegal.

“The law is written in such an ambiguous way that there are always going to be cases where you're apprehensive about providing that care, because nobody wants to end up in criminal court,” Austin-based OB-GYN Dr. Leah Tatum told KUT last year.

The TMB notified the Bresnens on Wednesday that their petition had been reviewed.

“TMB has been considering rulemaking options since the statute went into effect and will proceed with rulemaking,” TMB General Counsel Scott M. Freshour wrote in a letter to the Bresnens.

The attorneys had submitted proposed language for a rule, including a list of medical conditions that would qualify a woman for an emergency abortion, such as cancer and preeclampsia. Additionally, their proposal specified that death would not need to be imminent for a situation to be considered life-threatening. In the letter, Freshour said, however, that the TMB would consider alternate draft language from what the Bresnens proposed.

The TMB indicated that its March 22 discussion would be a “first step” in the rule-making process. The agency listed “consideration and possible action on rules regarding exceptions to the ban on abortions,” as an item on the upcoming meeting’s agenda.

Before the TMB could finalize guidance to physicians, it would need to publish a proposed rule in the Texas Register and invite public comment for 30 days. The Bresnens told KUT in January they hoped the board would bring doctors, hospitals and other interested parties to the table to weigh in on the process.

“We're just trying to make a competent discussion of this subject matter happen and some progress be made,” Steve Bresnen said in January. “Pregnant Texas females are at zero right now, and physicians are at zero with respect to these exceptions. We want to do better than zero, and that's why we're doing what we're doing.”

Copyright 2024 KUT News. To see more, visit KUT News.

Olivia Aldridge