The Texas Medical Commission would not provide a list of exceptions to the abortion ban
The Texas Medical Commission would not provide a list of exceptions to the abortion ban

DALLAS (AP) — A Texas medical panel on Friday rejected calls to list specific exceptions to one of the most restrictive abortion bans in the U.S., which doctors say is dangerously vague and has forced women with serious pregnancy complications to leave the state.

The head of the Texas Medical Board also said that broader issues surrounding the law — such as the lack of exemptions in cases of rape or incest — were outside the purview of the 16-member panel, twelve of whom are men. Only one member of the board is an obstetrician-gynecologist.

“There is so much we can do,” said Dr. Sheriff Zaafran, board president.

The public meeting sparked renewed dismay and anger among opponents who have been pushing Texas courts and lawmakers for nearly two years to clarify exceptions to the state’s ban. In December, Kate Cox, mother of two from Dallas, sued the state for the right to obtain an abortion after her fetus developed a fatal condition and she made multiple trips to the emergency room.

Cox left the state to have an abortion before the Texas Supreme Court, whose nine justices are elected Republicans, ruled that she had not shown her life was in danger. However, the court urged the state medical board to offer more guidance.

Zaafran said that while the board has some discretion as far as helping determine what the law says, they don’t have the discretion to rewrite it, which would be up to the Legislature. He and other board members were appointed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who signed the ban into law in 2021.

The board’s proposed guidelines for exceptions to Texas’ ban on abortion from the moment of fertilization, issued Friday, advise doctors to carefully document their decisions when determining whether continuing a woman’s pregnancy would endanger her life or impair an essential bodily function, but in otherwise, give some details.

While abortion advocates praised the language leaving whether to perform an abortion up to the “sound medical judgment” of doctors, some doctors, lawyers and women who left the state because of abortions said more needs to be done to protect of doctors from prosecution for performing abortions under the medical exemptions.

“You have people who are scared to death,” said Steve Bresnen, an attorney who petitioned the board for guidelines. “They’re facing death and they’re scared to death, and we think you can do more than your proposed rule seems to do. In that sense, we are disappointed.”

“Even though you don’t feel like you can do anything about the exposure to crime, it’s not right,” he said.

A doctor convicted of performing an illegal abortion in Texas could face up to 99 years in prison, a $100,000 fine and lose his medical license.

Zaafran said the board decided not to list specific medical conditions that could apply because there would be too many nuances on a case-by-case basis.

“You can have two conditions, but two very different circumstances, including where it might have happened. Was it an area where you couldn’t transfer the mother to an area with a higher level of care?” he said. Advances in medicine can also change the effects of certain conditions, he added.

Rebecca Weaver, legislative director of Texas Right to Life, the state’s largest anti-abortion group, expressed satisfaction that the guidelines do not “weaken the strength of our laws” and that the board chose “not to list the circumstances but to defer to sound medical judgment .”

“Texas’ pro-life laws clearly allow doctors to intervene when a pregnant woman’s life or essential bodily function is at risk because of her pregnancy,” she said.

There is now a period in which the public can comment on the board’s proposed guidelines.

After the US Supreme Court struck down abortion rights in June 2022, vaguely worded bans in some Republican-controlled states are caused confusion how the exceptions should be applied.

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