Texas Medical Board Urged to Provide Guidance on State Abortion Laws

Two attorneys have filed a petition with the Texas Medical Board, seeking clarification on what constitutes a medical exception to the state’s abortion laws. This comes after the Texas Supreme Court’s recent rejection of a Dallas woman’s request to terminate her nonviable pregnancy. The attorneys, Steve and Amy Bresnen, who are also lobbyists, are urging the board to issue clear guidance on when an abortion is allowed under the law.

Dr. Sherif Zaafran, the chair of the Texas Medical Board, has stated that the agency is currently reviewing the petition and expects to respond by the end of the week. Since Texas implemented a near-total ban on abortions in the summer of 2021, numerous women have come forward to share their experiences of being denied medically necessary abortions for complicated pregnancies. These women argue that they should have qualified for an abortion under the state’s narrow medical exceptions, but their doctors were either too afraid or unclear about the law to perform the procedure.

Steve Bresnen emphasized the urgency of the situation, stating that life-threatening conditions related to pregnancy are forcing women to seek abortion care out of state. He called on the Texas Medical Board to provide the necessary clarity, as requested by the legislature, the governor, the Supreme Court of Texas, and physicians. Bresnen stressed that there is no excuse for further delay.

In Texas, the medical board has the authority to revoke a doctor’s license if they violate the state’s abortion laws. In December, the Texas Supreme Court asked the board for more guidance on interpreting these statutes after rejecting a Dallas resident’s request for a medical emergency abortion. The Bresnens’ petition also seeks clarity from the board and calls for identifying the steps doctors can take to ensure that their decisions align with the standards for a medical exception.

Additionally, the petition asks the board to prohibit complaints against doctors that lack specific evidence that an abortion performed in Texas was illegal. Steve Bresnen highlighted the risks faced by physicians, stating that performing an abortion in an uncertain world can result in severe consequences, including the loss of freedom for up to 99 years. He stressed the need for the state to provide explicit instructions on how doctors can minimize their legal risk by acting within the exception.

If the Texas Medical Board decides to address the medical exception in the Federal Register, it could publish a rule in response to this petition. This would initiate a 30-day comment period before a final rule is issued. The Texas Tribune originally reported this story. The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan newsroom that informs and engages Texans on state politics and policy.

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