Texas lawmakers quietly pass law to clarify exceptions to abortion ban

Pregnant patients experiencing certain complications can now receive abortions before their conditions worsen.

By Sarah AschJuly 3, 2023 10:15 am, ,

Doctors will have just a bit more legal protection to perform emergency abortions under a bill signed by Gov. Greg Abbott.

The measure came after numerous reports of medical care being delayed due to confusion over the state’s abortion ban. The two conditions covered by House Bill 1358 are ectopic pregnancies, where a fertilized egg implants outside the uterus, and pre viable premature rupture of membranes, when water breaks before the age of viability. Both can be life threatening if untreated.

Julian Gill, who covers health care and medicine for the Houston Chronicle, said lawmakers purposefully kept this bill under the radar.

“There was a deliberate effort from those who drafted and shepherded this bill through the Legislature to not draw any attention to it because it is such a hot issue,” he said. “I hadn’t seen press releases or tweets about it. And the author of the bill, Rep. Ann Johnson, knew coming into it that this bill had to be a compromise. And she said the most effective way to do that was essentially to prevent outside noise, so to speak, from influencing the process.”

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Gill said Democrats like Johnson put forward this bill because of reports that pregnancy complications were being caught up in the state’s abortion ban. The senate sponsor of the bill was Republican lawmaker Bryan Hughes.

“Patients have reported being denied treatment or have been told to go home and wait for their condition to worsen, essentially waiting for the medical emergency exemption in this law to come into play,” he said. “There are a lot of different complications that can endanger a pregnant person’s life. Offering an abortion has been the standard of care in cases where a fetus has no chance of survival.”

Gill said lawmakers hailed this bill as a bipartisan effort.

“One of the criticisms I’ve heard is actually from the Center for Reproductive Rights, who is suing the state on behalf of several women who were denied abortions for pregnancy complications,” Gill said. “Their senior staff attorney, Molly Duane, basically said it’s not enough. She said that (medical) providers will still have to go to court. They’ll still have to defend themselves against these stiff penalties, which include lawsuits, felony charges, the loss of a medical license in a state that she said has been hostile toward abortion providers.

Now, on the other side of that, a couple of OBGYNs in Texas have told me that at least it’s something. At least we have more protection than we had before.”

Gill said it is also possible this law sets a precedent for further protections in the future when doctors feel an abortion is appropriate medical care for a patient at risk. And for now, patients experiencing the two conditions named in the bill will receive care more quickly.

“The hope is that that will prevent these specific patients from going through the agony of having to wait for treatment,” Gill said. “For physicians, a lot of the confusion has been centered on ‘oh, well, you know, there’s a heartbeat. Should we wait for it to stop because of the heartbeat bill?’ But this new bill says if you’re using reasonable medical judgment in providing this care, you have legal cover.”

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