News Abortion

Texas Dept. of Health Goes Big Brother: Extrajudicial and Invasive Collection of Info on Women and Doctors to Begin in 2013

Andrea Grimes

Texas will begin gathering new and more invasive information about abortion-seeking people and abortion-providing doctors in 2013, thanks to new reporting requirements enacted by the Department of Health and Human Services, developed at the request of an anti-choice Tea Party lawmaker.

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

In 2013, the state of Texas will begin gathering new and more invasive information on women seeking and doctors providing safe abortion care thanks to new reporting requirements developed extrajudicially at the insistence of an anti-choice Tea Party lawmaker and now being implemented by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Representative Bill Zedler tried, but failed, to get new reporting requirements enacted by law in the 2011 legislative session, so he asked the Health and Human Services Commission to do it for him; now, after months of public hearings and input from doctors and clinicians decrying the new rules, he’s succeeded.

Zedler originally wanted to go full-Big Brother on the subject of abortion, compiling a dream list of information (including the age of the “father” and a check-off list of Zedler-imagined reasons for termination, such as the favorite anti-choice scare story that “the woman does not prefer the gender of the unborn child,”) that he intended to collect about patients and doctors. The reporting data has been scaled back somewhat in the final, adopted version of the new rules, which will take effect on December 31, 2012.

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Changes made to the adopted draft include deletion of a question about the woman’s level of education and an addition giving doctors 30 rather than 20 days to report abortion “complications.” However, that term is never defined in the statute despite repeatedly-voiced concerns from doctors and health providers that such vagueness could be used against doctors who failed to report “complications” to DSHS’s satisfaction.

DSHS also added a reporting requirement that didn’t exist in the original draft language: that doctors report “the type of anesthesia, if any, used in the procedure: intravenous sedation or general anesthesia.” This addition is particularly timely in light of Governor Rick Perry’s sudden new interest in the subject of fetal pain, which he’s using as a cover for his ultimate goal of banning all abortions.

Rewire originally broke the story of Zedler’s back-door efforts to get his personal curiosity about abortion-seeking women made into law in April, when Texas health officials tried to quietly call a meeting of abortion provider stakeholders, the purpose of which was to address “some amendments the department has included that specifically relate to a request by Representative Zedler,” in the provider regulation rules, according to DSHS Health Care Quality Section Director Renee Clack.

The DSHS communications arm later said that Clack “misspoke” with her name-drop of Zedler and that instead, the rules were being considered as the result of “a general discussion among state leadership that resulted in us agreeing to look into it once it was clear the Rep. Zedler amendment would not be added to SB7,” which was 2011’s sweeping anti-choice bill that slashed the family planning budget, and put in place forced trans-vaginal ultrasounds and 24-hour waiting period for abortions.

Some Texas legislators criticized Zedler and DSHS over the summer, accusing the legislator and department of underhanded dealings intended to subvert the democratic process, writing in an open letter:

The proposed rule stems directly from legislation that has failed over the course of two legislative sessions and that repeatedly did not receive the support of the majority of the Texas Legislature. As such, we should not allow the political agenda of a single member to circumvent the democratic process and the will of the Legislature. If this rule is published and adopted, it sets a terrible precedent and will have serious ramifications for years to come.

As of 12/31/2012, the “terrible precedent” will have been set. El Paso’s Sen. Jose Rodriguez, who spoke out against the new rules in June, told Rewire this week via an official statement that he had reservations about DSHS “essentially implementing through administrative procedures what could not pass the legislative process.” He went on to say that he’s glad certain reporting requirements were scratched—like the education question—but doesn’t believe the new reporting requirements have the best interests of women or doctors in mind:

However, the bottom line is that DSHS has created reporting requirements aimed less at improving women’s health than advancing a political agenda. The new rules place more obstacles in the way of already heavily regulated women’s health providers.

Just as, it seems, Bill Zedler always wanted.

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.

News Health Systems

Texas Anti-Choice Group Gets $1.6 Million Windfall From State

Teddy Wilson

“Healthy Texas Women funding should be going directly to medical providers who have experience providing family planning and preventive care services, not anti-abortion organizations that have never provided those services," Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, said in a statement.

A Texas anti-choice organization will receive more than $1.6 million in state funds from a reproductive health-care program designed by legislators to exclude Planned Parenthood

The Heidi Group was awarded the second largest grant ever provided for services through the Healthy Texas Women program, according to the Associated Press.

Carol Everett, the founder and CEO of the group and a prominent anti-choice activist and speaker, told the AP her organization’s contract with the state “is about filling gaps, not about ideology.”

“I did not see quality health care offered to women in rural areas,” Everett said.

Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, said in a statement that it was “inappropriate” for the state to award a contract to an organization for services that it has never performed.

“The Heidi Group is an anti-abortion organization, it is not a healthcare provider,” Busby said.

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State lawmakers in 2011 sought to exclude Planned Parenthood from the Texas Women’s Health Program, which was jointly funded through federal and state dollars. Texas launched a state-funded version in 2013, and this year lawmakers announced the Healthy Texas Women program.

Healthy Texas Women is designed help women between the ages of 18 and 44 with a household income at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level, and includes $285 million in funding and 5,000 providers across the state.

Bubsy said the contract to the Heidi Group was “especially troubling” in light of claims made by Everett in response to a recent policy requiring abortion providers to cremate or bury fetal remains. Everett has argued that methods of disposal of fetal remains could contaminate the water supply.

“There’s several health concerns. What if the woman had HIV? What if she had a sexually transmitted disease? What if those germs went through and got into our water supply,” Everett told an Austin Fox News affiliate.

The transmission of HIV or other sexually transmitted infections through water systems or similar means is not supported by scientific evidence.

“The state has no business contracting with an entity, or an individual, that perpetuates such absurd, inaccurate claims,” Busby said. “Healthy Texas Women funding should be going directly to medical providers who have experience providing family planning and preventive care services, not anti-abortion organizations that have never provided those services.”

According to a previous iteration of the Heidi Group’s website, the organization worked to help “girls and women in unplanned pregnancies make positive, life-affirming choices.”

Texas Health and Human Services Commission spokesperson Bryan Black told the Texas Tribune that the Heidi Group had “changed its focus.”

The Heidi Group “will now be providing women’s health and family planning services required by Healthy Texas Women, including birth control, STI screening and treatment, plus cancer screenings to women across Texas,” Black said in an email to the Tribune.

Its current site reads: “The Heidi Group exists to ensure that all Texas women have access to quality health care by coordinating services in a statewide network of full-service medical providers.”

Everett told the American-Statesman the organization will distribute the state funds to 25 clinics and physicians across the state, but she has yet to disclose which clinics or physicians will receive the funds or what its selection process will entail.

She also disputed the criticism that her opposition to abortion would affect how her organization would distribute the state funds.

“As a woman, I am never going to tell another woman what to tell to do,” Everett said. “Our goal is to find out what she wants to do. We want her to have fully informed decision on what she wants to do.”

“I want to find health care for that woman who can’t afford it. She is the one in my thoughts,” she continued.

The address listed on the Heidi Group’s award is the same as an anti-choice clinic, commonly referred to as a crisis pregnancy center, in San Antonio, the Texas Observer reported.

Life Choices Medical Clinic offers services including pregnancy testing, ultrasounds, and well-woman exams. However, the clinic does not provide abortion referrals or any contraception, birth control, or family planning services.

The organization’s mission is to “save the lives of unborn children, minister to women and men facing decisions involving pregnancy and sexual health, and touch each life with the love of Christ.”

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