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Abortion guidelines and definitions proposed by Texas Medical Board

The Texas Medical Board (TMB) has proposed guidelines and definitions for exceptions and documentation regarding doctors performing abortions in Texas.

Last week, TMB published its upcoming agenda that stated it would take up an item for “Consideration and possible action on rules regarding exceptions to the ban on abortions.”

A petition for “rulemaking” was submitted by Amy and Steve Brensen and received by the board in January. Their petition asked to “clarify exceptions to the prohibition on abortion in Texas,” requesting TMB to make a rulemaking decision under the Texas Administrative Procedure Act.

During the meeting, the board stated it had consulted with the Office of the Attorney General “prior to rule language consideration.”

“I would also reiterate it is the language that was put in the Texas Supreme Court ruling which states that a woman who meets the medical necessity exception need not seek a court order to obtain an abortion under the law,” TMB President Dr. Sherif Zaafran stated.

“It is a doctor who must decide that a woman is suffering from a life-threatening condition during a pregnancy, raising the necessity for an abortion to save her life or to prevent impairment of a major bodily function.”

Zaarfran went on to state that the “law leaves to physicians not judges both the discretion and the responsibility to exercise their reasonable medical judgment given the unique facts and circumstances of each patient.”

While in the process of laying out the proposed rules, the board explained that it would be difficult to address issues such as an ectopic pregnancy, or when a situation constitutes a “medical emergency.”

"We've tried to put all that stuff together in one place to make it easier for people to see, and to make it clear that this is what the board will be looking at as far as definition for those terms," the TMB board stated.

The board went on to explain that it can put out definitions “as far as medical emergencies or nuances” and describe the processes, but “can’t define things like rape and incest being a certain condition, that is not under our jurisdiction.”

TMB stated that “very specific circumstances … that are not specifically listed in law” cannot be listed in their definitions provided, as the board members “do not have the ability to write law, that has to be a legislative action.”

During public comment, Amy O’Donnell from Texas Alliance for Life said to the board, “It's important to note as you consider this important issue that Texas abortion laws are saving unborn babies' and pregnant women's lives.”

TMB released its proposal with definitions for abortion, ectopic pregnancy, reasonable medical judgment, medical emergency, and major bodily function.

It also lists documentation requirements for when a physician performs an abortion “in response to a medical emergency.”

Texas Right to Life President Dr. John Seago said of the TMB proposal, “We are pleased that the Texas Medical Board is taking this issue seriously and reviewing rules to help our medical professionals know how to follow Pro-Life laws and to immediately treat mothers and their children in emergencies.”

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