The Texas Supreme Court has called on the Texas Medical Board to establish guidelines regarding medical exceptions in the state’s strict new abortion law. However, the chair of the Medical Board, Dr. Sherif Zaafran, stated that it is not within their role to provide legal clarity on this matter. Dr. Zaafran, a Houston anesthesiologist, explained that the board is limited by the law and cannot go beyond its permitted scope. He also declined to confirm whether the board would offer further guidance in the future, citing ongoing litigation.
Dr. Zaafran expressed uncertainty about the helpfulness of providing additional guidance, stating that in the past, not following the board’s guidance did not necessarily result in prosecution. Last year, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office issued an advisory warning doctors that performing abortions could lead to felony charges unless the pregnancy endangered the woman’s life or posed a significant risk to a major bodily function.
The case that prompted the Texas Supreme Court’s request for guidance involved Kate Cox, a Dallas native who sought an abortion due to a nonviable fetus. However, the court ruled against Cox on December 11, while still urging the medical board to provide further clarification. The justices suggested that the board could evaluate hypothetical scenarios, offer best practices, and establish clear boundaries to facilitate the legal process.
Dr. Zaafran emphasized that the medical board’s role is limited to adjudicating complaints against doctors and that individual physicians have the discretion to determine what constitutes a life-threatening diagnosis. He stressed that the legislature should address hypothetical scenarios, and the medical board could offer additional advice if future court rulings affect the interpretation of the law.
In response to the court’s ruling, Cox’s attorneys were unavailable for comment. However, Cox, a mother of two, obtained an abortion out of state in mid-December. The issue of medical exceptions in Texas’ abortion law remains a subject of contention, with the medical board asserting its boundaries and the court calling for further guidance.