News Politics

Texas Rep, Having Failed to Pass Anti-Choice Law, Orders Department of Health to Do His Bidding Anyway

Andrea Grimes

Passionately anti-choice Texas House Representative Bill Zedler couldn't get the legislation he wanted approved in last year's lawmaking session--he'd like to know as much as possible about women seeking, and doctors performing, abortions--so instead of pursuing the consent of his peers in the legislature, he got the Texas Department of State Health Services to do it for him. So much for democracy.

See all of our exclusive coverage of Rep. Bill Zedler here.

Texas Republican House Representative Bill Zedler couldn’t get the anti-choice amendment he proposed during last year’s special lawmaking session approved by his peers in the legislature–he’d like to gather as much information as possible on women seeking, and doctors performing, abortions–so he’s asked the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) to do it for him. And at a meeting held last week in Austin, it became clear the DSHS brass is happy to help him out.

The Texas DSHS called the abortion provider stakeholders meeting one afternoon last week to begin the process of getting public comment on “updated reporting requirements” instituted at the behest of Rep. Zedler.

It confirms the worst fears of abortion providers who suspected, when they were notified a week before about the meeting, “that the truth the state is hiding is that it now means to implement by regulation what it has failed for the past several years to accomplish through legislation.”

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DSHS Health Care Quality Section Director Renee Clack told a group of about twenty abortion providers, pro-choice activists and clinical workers that the “primary reason” for the meeting was to address implementation of two laws passed last year that require mandatory transvaginal sonograms and exclude Planned Parenthood from participating in Texas’ Medicaid Women’s Health Program, and also to address “some amendments the department has included that specifically relate to a request by Representative Zedler.”

Even though lawmakers did not approve these new rules because Zedler’s amendment–and others like it–have repeatedly been shot down in legislative session or languished in committee hearings, the DSHS says it has the “authority” to initiate them anyway, so that’s what they’re going to do.

The DSHS’ willingness to take up new requirements that, by their own admission, they were not seeking to institute before Rep. Zedler’s request raises disturbing questions: Can individual lawmakers simply bypass the legislative process and “request” that state departments do their bidding? Why should lawmakers bother trying to pass laws with the consent of their fellow democratically-elected legislators when they can just “request” state departments do their bidding later on?

When pressed by Rewire, the DSHS reps refused to clarify its intentions with the updated reporting requirements and specify how the updated requirements–which are redundant at best and intimidating at worst–would benefit the public health and safety of Texans. Their refrain: we have the authority to do this, so we’re doing it. 

Zedler’s failed amendment, on which the new requirements are based, is the latest version of an Orwellian information-gathering bill his fellow Republicans have tried, unsuccessfully, to pass in the Texas legislature for years.  To be sure, the proposed updated requirements are less extreme than what Zedler would probably like–the original version of his bill sought to make a bevy of private, personal information about abortion-seeking women available to the state and, very potentially, to the public–but Zedler is certainly in the DSHS draft in spirit.

New proposed rules would induce any and all abortion providers to submit to the state the following information:

  • the patient’s highest level of education
  • whether the patient viewed printed health materials provided by the state
  • whether the sonogram image, verbal explanation of the image and audio of a heartbeat were made available
  • whether the patient completed the “Abortion and Sonogram Election form”
  • the method used to dispose of fetal tissue and remains
  • if a patient is younger than 18, was consent obtained and
  • the method of pregnancy verification

These requirements would be in addition to rules that already require providers to inform the state of an abortion-seeking woman’s previous live births, induced abortions and age, race, residence and marital status. 

But the updated reporting rules that caused the most consternation among abortion stakeholders at the meeting were new rules requiring individual physicians to report, within 20 days, any complications resulting from an abortion procedure. Abortion providing facilities already report complications to the DSHS, causing a number of meeting attendees to call the new rule redundant and potentially intimidating, especially to individual abortion-providing physicians who aren’t intimately familiar with reporting requirements the way clinical facilities are.

The DSHS said it would leave the determination of what constitutes a “complication” to individual doctors’ discretion, raising among gathered providers the question of whether, later on, the lack of direction from DSHS could be used to play “gotcha” with doctors when they don’t report complications the DSHS later determines to be relevant.

“This is a lot of rigmarole,” commented Dr. James Alexander, an OB-GYN from Parkland Hospital in Dallas. “We’re trying to comply,” he said, “but I’m having to spend money I could spend on patient care” on paperwork.

Because the new reporting updates aren’t required by statute, questioned Dr. Alexander, why do them at all when there are already reporting methods in place? “If the law doesn’t require me to,” he said, “I don’t need another form.”

The DSHS assured providers that all of their reporting data would be kept confidential, including the doctors’ complication reports, and that it would all be handled and protected by the Bureau of Vital Statistics, without any direct identification of either doctors or patients by name.

The DSHS said it plans to present the final draft of the updated requirements to their decision-making committee on the 14th of June. Until then, says DSHS’ Assistant Commissioner for Regulatory Services Kathy Perkins, “there’s a lot of opportunity here to provide input.”

Texas abortion providers wishing to ask questions or make comments about Zedler’s requested changes at DSHS can contact Amy Harper at the Regulatory Licensing Unit at (512) 834-6730.

These are the proposed requirements as presented by Texas DSHS on Thursday, April 5th.

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: Tim Kaine Outlines Plan to ‘Make Housing Fair’

Ally Boguhn

“A house is more than just a place to sleep. It's part of the foundation on which a family can build a life,” wrote Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA). “Where you live determines the jobs you can find, the schools your children can attend, the air you breathe and the opportunities you have. And when you are blocked from living where you want, it cuts to the core of who you are.”

Donald Trump made some controversial changes to his campaign staff this week, and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) noted his commitment to better housing policies.

Trump Hires Controversial Conservative Media Figure

Republican presidential nominee Trump made two notable additions to his campaign staff this week, hiring Breitbart News’ Stephen Bannon as CEO and GOP pollster Kellyanne Conway as campaign manager.

“I have known Steve and Kellyanne both for many years. They are extremely capable, highly qualified people who love to win and know how to win,” said Trump in a Wednesday statement announcing the hires. “I believe we’re adding some of the best talents in politics, with the experience and expertise needed to defeat Hillary Clinton in November and continue to share my message and vision to Make America Great Again.”

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Both have been criticized as being divisive figures.

Conway, for example, previously advised then-client Todd Akin to wait out the backlash after his notorious “legitimate rape” comments, comparing the controversy to “the Waco with David Koresh situation where they’re trying to smoke him out with the SWAT teams.” According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Conway is also “often cited by anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim organizations such as the think tank Center for Security Policy and NumbersUSA.”

Under Bannon’s leadership, “mainstream conservative website” changed “into a cesspool of the alt-right,” suggested the publication’s former editor at large, Ben Shapiro, in a piece for the Washington Post‘s PostEverything. “It’s a movement shot through with racism and anti-Semitism.”

Speaking with ABC News this week, Kurt Bardella, who also previously worked with Bannon at Breitbart, alleged that Bannon had exhibited “nationalism and hatred for immigrants, people coming into this country to try to get a better life for themselves” during editorial calls.

“If anyone sat there and listened to that call, you’d think that you were attending a white supremacist rally,” said Bardella.

Trump’s new hire drew heated criticism from the Clinton campaign in a Wednesday press call. “The Breitbart organization has been known to defend white supremacists,” said Robby Mook, Clinton’s campaign manager. After pointing to an analysis from the SPLC linking Breitbart to the extremist alt-right movement, Mook listed a number of other controversial positions pushed by the site.

“Breitbart has compared the work of Planned Parenthood to the Holocaust. They’ve also repeatedly used anti-LGBT slurs in their coverage. And finally, like Trump himself, Breitbart and Bannon have frequently trafficked in all sorts of deranged conspiracy theories from touting that President Obama was not born in America to claiming that the Obama Administration was ‘importing more hating Muslims.’”

“It’s clear that [Trump’s] divisive, erratic, and dangerous rhetoric simply represents who he really is,” continued Mook.

Kaine Outlines Plan to “Make Housing Fair”

Clinton’s vice presidential nominee Kaine wrote an essay for CNN late last week explaining how the Clinton-Kaine ticket can “make housing fair” in the United States.

“A house is more than just a place to sleep. It’s part of the foundation on which a family can build a life,” wrote Kaine. “Where you live determines the jobs you can find, the schools your children can attend, the air you breathe and the opportunities you have. And when you are blocked from living where you want, it cuts to the core of who you are.”

Kaine shared the story of Lorraine, a young Black woman who had experienced housing discrimination, whom Kaine had represented pro bono just after completing law school.

“This is one issue that shows the essential role government can play in creating a fairer society. Sen. Ed Brooke, an African-American Republican from Massachusetts, and Sen. Walter Mondale, a white Democrat from Minnesota, came together to draft the Fair Housing Act, which protects people from discrimination in the housing market,” noted Kaine, pointing to the 1968 law.

“Today, more action is still needed. That’s why Hillary Clinton and I have a bold, progressive plan to fight housing inequities across Americaespecially in communities that have been left out or left behind,” Kaine continued.

The Virginia senator outlined some of the key related components of Clinton’s “Breaking Every Barrier Agenda,” including an initiative to offer $10,000 in down payment assistance to new homebuyers that earn less than the median income in a given area, and plans to “bolster resources to enforce Fair Housing laws and fight housing discrimination in all its forms.”

The need for fair and affordable housing is a pressing issue for people throughout the country.

“It is estimated that each year more than four million acts of [housing] discrimination occur in the rental market alone,” found a 2015 analysis by the National Fair Housing Alliance.

No county in the United States has enough affordable housing to accommodate the needs of those with low incomes, according to a 2015 report released by the Urban Institute. “Since 2000, rents have risen while the number of renters who need low-priced housing has increased,” explained the report. “Nationwide, only 28 adequate and affordable units are available for every 100 renter households with incomes at or below 30 percent of the area median income.”

What Else We’re Reading

CBS News’ Will Rahn penned a primer explaining Trump campaign CEO Bannon’s relationship to the alt-right.

White supremacists and the alt-right “rejoice[d]” after Trump hired Bannon, reported Betsy Woodruff and Gideon Resnick for the Daily Beast.

Clinton published an essay in Teen Vogue this week encouraging young people to fight for what they care about, learn from those with whom they disagree, and get out the vote.

“In calling for ‘extreme vetting’ of foreigners entering the United States, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump suggested a return to a 1950s-era immigration standard—since abandoned—that barred entry to people based on their political beliefs,” explained USA Today.

Trump wants to cut a visa program “his own companies have used … to bring in hundreds of foreign workers, including fashion models for his modeling agency who need exhibit no special skills,” according to a report by the New York Times.

A Koch-backed group “has unleashed an aggressive campaign to kill a ballot measure in South Dakota that would require Koch-affiliated groups and others like them to reveal their donors’ identities.”

News Abortion

Anti-Choice Group Wants National Abortion Data Reporting Law

Teddy Wilson

Anti-choice activists claim that despite the evidence, the number of complications from abortion is higher than is being reported. States that track abortion care data have shown the procedure to be exceedingly safe.

A leading anti-choice organization is calling for a national database of abortion statistics and increased reporting requirements for states—proposals seen as part of a strategy to justify laws restricting access to abortion care.

The U.S. Supreme Court in June struck down provisions of Texas’ omnibus anti-choice law known as HB 2. The ruling relied heavily on research that showed abortion care was a safe and well regulated procedure. Anti-choice activists have long disputed those claims.

Clarke Forsythe, acting president of Americans United for Life (AUL), told Politico that there is not enough data on abortion. “The abortion advocates like to talk in vague terms about abortion but we need specifics,” Forsythe said. “We don’t have a national abortion data collection and reporting law.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has collected “abortion surveillance” data since 1969. The CDC published the most recent report on abortion statistics in 2012.

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Abortion surveillance reports are created by compiling data from health agencies, provided voluntarily to the CDC, in all 50 states as well as the District of Columbia and New York City. The data includes deaths from abortion related complications, but does not include the number of complications that don’t result in deaths.

Reporting requirements for abortion statistics vary from state to state, with 46 states requiring that abortion providers submit regular reports, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Most states report the number of abortion procedures performed as well as the type of procedure, the gestation of the pregnancy, and demographic data of the patient.

There are 27 states that require providers to report the number of complications from abortion procedures.

The self-described “legal architect” of the anti-choice movement, AUL has been heavily involved in lobbying for state and federal laws that restrict access to abortion. The organization creates copycat legislation and distributes anti-choice proposals to state lawmakers, who then push the measures through legislatures.

Forsythe took a victory lap Monday for the organization’s role in promoting bills from the AUL’s “playbook of pro-life legislation” that were introduced this year in state legislatures. “AUL continued to assist states considering health and safety standards to protect women in abortion clinics,” Forsythe said in a statement.

Dozens of bills to increase reporting requirements have been introduced in state legislatures over the past several years. These proposals include several types of reporting requirements for abortion providers, and many of the provisions are similar to those found in AUL model legislation.

Arizona legislators in 2010 passed SB 1304, which required abortion providers to submit annual reports to the state and required the state Department of Health Services (DHS) to publish an annual report.

The Republican-backed legislation is similar to copycat legislation drafted that same year by AUL.

Since the law’s passage there have been very few complications resulting from abortion procedures reported in the state: from 2011-2014, less than 1 percent of abortions procedures in the state resulted in complications.

Arizona reported that 137 patients experienced complications out of 12,747 abortion procedures in 2014; 102 patients experienced complications out of 13,254 abortion procedures in 2013; 76 patients had complications out of 13,129 abortion procedures in 2012; 60 patients experienced complications out of 14,401 abortion procedures in 2011.

Dr. Daniel Grossman, a physician at the University of California, San Francisco who studied the impact of HB 2 for the Texas Policy Evaluation Project (TxPEP), told Politico that abortion has been shown to be exceptionally safe medical procedure.

“There’s already a lot of data that have been published documenting how safe abortion is in the U.S.,” Grossman said.“The abortion complication rate is exceedingly low.”

Anti-choice activists claim that despite the evidence, the number of complications from abortion is higher than is being reported. Joe Pojman, the executive director of the Texas Alliance for Life, told Politico that “better data” is needed.

Texas has required reporting of the number of complications from abortion procedures since 2013, and the data has shown that abortion complications are exceedingly rare. There were 447 complications out of 63,849 procedures in 2013 and 777 complications out of 54,902 procedures in 2014.

Pojman said that the Texas data “defies common sense” and that the complications are “are much smaller than what one would expect.”

The Texas abortion statistics reveal that it is safer to have an abortion than to carry a pregnancy to term in the state. Between 2008 and 2013, the most recent years for which data is available, there were 691 maternal deaths in Texas, compared to one death due to abortion complications between 2008 and 2014.

“There’s no sign that there’s a hidden safety problem happening in Texas,” Grossman said.


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