Health and Safety Code To Change if Bill is Passed

This story was written for my first Navigating State Government class.

Sections of the Texas Health and Safety Code will change if House Bill 708 is passed. The bill will rephrase certain sections and words in the section dealing with abortion.

Representative Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, filed the bill on January 14, 2015. She is the primary author of HB 708, which is related to the medical accuracy of information materials given to a woman seeking an abortion.

“In 2003, pursuant to the Woman’s Right to Know Act, the Texas Legislature directed the Department of State Health Services to develop a booklet entitled ‘A Woman’s Right to Know.’ The Act mandates that every woman be provided a copy of this booklet before having an abortion,” Diana Horn, the executive director of the Texas House Women’s Health Caucus. “The booklet has three main problems.”

The “Woman’s Right To Know Act” requires physicians to give patients the state-mandated information about the risks 24 hours before the abortion procedure.

“First, the information contained in the booklet is not in compliance with medical standards adopted by the National Institute of Health,” Horn said. “For example, the booklet notes that at six weeks gestation, the embryo’s lungs begin to form and hands and feet have digits. However, according to the [National Institute of Health], this does not begin until eight weeks gestation.”

With the Texas House of Representatives being majority Republican, Horn said that the bill is “unlikely to progress very far in the legislative process.”

The booklet has been produced by the state to be given women seeking an abortion for more than a decade.

“This bill would simply ensure the material provided is in accordance with information developed by the National Institute of Health and its partner organizations,” Horn said.

 One line that will be removed from the Health and Safety Code, if the bill is passed, is the “possibility of increased risk of breast cancer following an induced abortion and the natural protective effect of a completed pregnancy in avoiding breast cancer.”

The National Cancer Institute hosted the Early Reproductive Events and Breast Cancer Workshop in 2003. During the workshop, 100 of the world’s top experts in the relationship between pregnancy and breast cancer risk reviewed previous studies to come up with answers. The experts came to a conclusion that induced or spontaneous abortion is not associated with an increase in breast cancer risk.

“The booklet notes that there is an increased risk in developing breast cancer after an induced abortion, yet there is no support in the booklet for this claim. In fact, as the American Cancer Society has stated in written testimony research has shown that induced abortions do not increase a woman’s chance of developing breast cancer,” Horn said.

Emily, a patient advocate for Whole Women’s Health who asked to remain anonymous, said that there are many misconceptions about abortions.            

“There are many myths surrounding abortion,” Emily said. “Many are not true. One myth I hear often is that women cannot get pregnant after getting an abortion. That’s not true either.”

The bill will also require for all information required by the state to be given to those seeking an abortion to be medically accurate when informing patients about the risks on having an abortion. This includes the medical risks associated with the particular abortion procedure, the risks of infection and hemorrhage and the risks associated with caring the fetus to full term.

“The motivation behind the issuance of ‘A Woman’s Right to Know’ pamphlet is to coerce through misinformation a woman from having a constitutionally protected medical procedure,” Horn said. “The extent of the publication of scientifically inaccurate and ideologically motivated state issued materials is unknown, but that the State of Texas would do so even once casts into doubt the reliability of all state issued publications.”

In 2010, the most recent year with data related to abortion mortality, 10 women died due to complications from known legal induced abortions. Pregnancy-related mortality ratio was 16.7 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2010.

“Another myth about abortion is that it is a dangerous procedure,” said Emily. “The procedure is safe outpatient procedure. It’s 12 times as safe as delivering a child.”

HB 708 will be striking the portion of the law that restricts the type of information the state can provide. This will allow clinics to give more information on family planning services to the patient. That means that the patient will know about the medical assistance she can receive, that the father is liable for financially assisting the child and that there are public and private agencies that provide pregnancy prevention counseling and medical referrals for obtaining prevention medications and emergency contraception. This will give patients different options on what they could do with the pregnancy.

Many abortion clinics require women to speak to a counselor first. If the counselor does find them to be emotionally unfit or seems to be making the wrong choice for the procedure, women are given different options.

“If the counselor thinks that the woman is not making a good choice, we give them a packet that goes over some questions about how they are feeling and what might be best for them,” said Emily. “If they are need of adoption services, we refer them. We also help them with financial assistance.”

For organizations and clinics who are against abortion or do not provide abortion services help families in other ways. They offer pregnancy tests, free sonograms, parenting classes, newborn classes and other things that will help them raise a child.

“We have a baby store that has free baby items for parents who attend parenting classes. That’s a way they can earn points to buy stuff,” said Katy, a worker at the John Paul II Life Center. “We contact them once a month to see how they are doing.”

Katy, who asked to remain anonymous, said that they continue to help new parents throughout the parenting process even after the baby is born.

“If this is really about a woman’s right to know, she should know all sides and all of the facts in order to make a fully informed decision,” Horn said.

The last thing the bill will change, if passed, is changing the wording of the health code from “unborn child” to “embryo or fetus.”

“I think the phrasing plays into people’s emotions. It kind of makes people think differently about people who get abortions and lights abortion in a different way,” said Emily.

The Texas Abortion Facility Reporting and Licensing Act, Health and Safety Code, Chapter 245, states that all abortion facilities in the state have to submit an annual report to the Texas DSHS on each abortion that is performed at the facility.

“A myth is that single women are the only ones getting abortions. That’s a lie. Women come in who are married or in relationships,” said Emily. “One in three women have an abortion. Over half have multiple [abortions]. People are uncomfortable speaking openly about it due to the stigma around it.”      

In 2012, the United States saw a total of 68,298 induced abortions were reported to the Department of State Health Services. From those 68,298 induced abortions, 66,098, or 96 percent, were reported by the Texas Department of State Health Services.        

The total number of induced abortions reported to DSHS decreased by almost six percent in 2012.

A few of the reasons behind the decrease in abortions are due to the laws currently in place. One law requires patients to visit the clinic twice before the procedure and that women must also have an ultrasound 24 hours before the procedure. Once that is done, women can schedule an abortion.

The 2013 abortion law, or House Bill 2, requires facilities that provide abortion services to meet the same hospital-like stands as ambulatory surgical centers. The bill forced all but 18 of the 41 abortion clinics in the state to close down. It’s currently being challenged in court.

Representative Donna Howard, a D-Austin, and Representative Mary Gonzalez, D-El Paso, filed as joint authors of HB 708 on February 17, 2015.

Farrar is also the author of HB 709, a bill that related to the waiting period before a physician may perform an abortion.

“Representative Farrar believes every woman should be allowed to make personal reproductive healthcare decisions based on her own faith and in consultation with her own physician and her family,” Horn said. “She also believes that if legislators want to end abortions, the safest way to do so is to reduce the need for them through access to and education about contraceptive use for both men and women.

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