Texas Medical Board to consider issuing guidance on abortion laws' medical exceptions

Friday, March 15, 2024
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The Texas Medical Board will consider language to clarify what qualifies as a medical exception to the state's abortion laws at an upcoming March 22 board meeting. The meeting agenda was published in the Texas Register on Thursday morning.

According to the medical board's agenda, it will consider and take "possible action on rules regarding exceptions to the ban on abortions" at its upcoming meeting.

This comes after Texas attorneys and lobbyists Steve and Amy Bresnen filed a petition in January that asked the board to issue "clear guidance" about when an abortion is permitted under the law.

The Bresnens filed the petition, prompted by the Texas Supreme Court's rejection of Kate Cox's attempt to end her nonviable pregnancy last year. The Dallas woman had an abortion in another state after the Texas Supreme Court ruled that she did not qualify for a medical emergency abortion.

"We are hopeful that there is movement, and we know that this is just the first step in a long journey to justice," Amy Bresnen said Thursday.

Texas laws ban nearly all abortions unless, "in the exercise of a reasonable medical judgment," a doctor determines that the patient is experiencing "a life-threatening physical condition aggravated by, caused by, or arising from a pregnancy that places the female at risk of death or poses a serious risk of substantial impairment of a major bodily function."

Texas first passed a law in 2021 that banned most abortions after the sixth week of pregnancy - before many women know they are pregnant. When the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022, it activated a Texas trigger law on abortion.

Since then, multiple women in the state have been denied medically necessary abortions for complicated pregnancies. Many have said they should have qualified for abortions under medical exceptions to the state's law - but their doctors were too unclear on those narrow exceptions and feared the consequences of providing the procedure.

The Texas Medical Board can revoke a doctor's license if they violate the state's abortion laws. In December 2023, Texas' Supreme Court asked the board to provide doctors with more guidance on exceptions after the court rejected Cox's bid for a medical emergency abortion. Before the overturn of Roe v. Wade in June 2022, Texas law would have allowed Cox to have an abortion at her doctor's office or hospital.

In a March 13 letter to the Bresnens obtained by The Texas Tribune, the board said they will consider the draft language proposed in the petition as well as alternate language.

In their January petition, the Bresnen's also called on the board to identify steps doctors can take to ensure that their decisions meet legal standards for medical exceptions. The petition requested that the board ban complaints against doctors that are not supported by specific evidence proving that an abortion performed in Texas was illegal.

After draft language is considered, the board could publish a rule in the Texas Register regarding medical exceptions. There would be a 30-day public comment period to follow, ahead of a final rule.

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans - and engages with them - about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.