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Texas hospitals fearing abortion law delay pregnant women’s care, medical association says

Doctors are being prohibited from treating patients with complications, the Texas Medical Association alleges.

By Allie Morris

The Texas State Capitol
The Texas State Capitol is pictured at dusk on Wednesday, June 8, 2022, in Austin. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced a lawsuit against the federal government over the Biden administration’s guidance that federal rules require hospitals to provide abortions if the procedure is necessary to save a mother’s life. / Photo Credit: Smiley N. Pool / Staff Photographer

AUSTIN — The Texas Medical Association wants regulators to step in after hospitals reportedly refused to treat patients with serious pregnancy complications for fear of violating the state’s abortion ban.

In a letter sent Wednesday to the Texas Medical Board, the association said it received complaints that hospitals, their administrators and their lawyers may be prohibiting physicians from providing medically appropriate care to women with ectopic pregnancies and other complications.

It asks the board to “swiftly act to prevent any wrongful intrusion into the practice of medicine.”

The letter from the state’s most prominent physicians group offers an early sign of how restrictive abortion laws have hindered medical care for pregnant Texans.

ban on abortions is set to take effect in the coming weeks, triggered by the U.S. Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe vs. Wade. Doctors who run afoul of the restrictions can face six-figure fines and lengthy jail sentences.

Since last September, Texas physicians have already had to contend with a law known as Senate Bill 8 that empowers citizens to sue anyone who “aids or abets” in an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy.

While there’s a narrow exception in both laws to save the life of a pregnant patient, there’s been confusion about who qualifies.

Fearing litigation, some providers have delayed abortions until patients’ conditions became life-threatening, according to a paper authored by Texas-based researchers and published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The association, which declined to comment, does not identify any hospital by name in the letter, but it cites several examples.

One in Central Texas allegedly told a physician not to treat an ectopic pregnancy until it ruptured, which puts patient health at serious risk, according to the letter. An ectopic pregnancy, when a fertilized egg attaches outside of the uterus, is not viable.

“Delayed or prevented care in this scenario creates a substantial risk for the patient’s future reproductive ability and poses serious risk to the patient’s immediate physical wellbeing,” the letter said.

Two other hospitals may be directing doctors to send pregnant patients home to “expel the fetus” when their water breaks too early, instead of treating them at the hospital, the letter said.

In those situations, physicians have said that patients are at risk of infection.

The alleged interference not only puts patients at risk of serious injury, the letter said, but also could expose doctors to lawsuits or threaten their medical licenses. It may violate Texas’ prohibition on the corporate practice of medicine, which the board has the power to enforce, the letter said.

The Texas Medical Board confirmed it received the association’s letter, but a spokesperson said the board “cannot confirm or deny any specific complaint as they are considered confidential under statute.”

On Thursday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced a lawsuit against the federal government after the Biden administration said federal rules require hospitals to provide abortions if the procedure is necessary to save a mother’s life. The lawsuit says that the guidance is unlawful and that the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act does not cover abortions.

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