On September 24th, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott released two opinions concerning the practice of abortion in Texas. The opinions addressed informed consent for women seeking abortions and the requirements for those facilities that administer the abortion drugs such as RU-486 (called medical abortions).
The two opinions were in response to requests made by Pro-Life State Representative Frank Corte, a Republican legislator from San Antonio and friend of Texas Right to Life. Representative Corte requested that General Abbott, the chief legal officer in Texas, to rule on two specific questions. The first question was whether an abortionist could use a prerecorded message or a one-way conference call to provide the legally required informed consent information to a woman before her abortion. The second question asked by Representative Corte was whether a medical facility dispensing abortion drugs (to cause chemical abortions) is required to have an abortion facility license. Corte has carried the banner for the Pro-Life cause for a decade in the State House, authoring and passing the landmark Woman’s Right to Know law in 2003, and other measures to restore the sanctity of innocent human life.
On the first question, General Abbott ruled a prerecorded message or a one-way conference call is insufficient to meet the legal requirements for informed consent before an abortion in Texas. In the Health and Safety Code of the Texas statutes (Chapter 171.012), abortionists must give any woman seeking an abortion the risks associated with that procedure and available alternatives. By mandating that this information be offered, the law protects and empowers women to make truly informed decisions. Additionally, the law raises abortion to the same minimum standard of care as exercised for other surgical procedures.
However, for the past several years, abortion clinics in Texas have adopted the practice of referring women to a prerecorded telephone or video message which provides the required informed consent information. Abbott explained that, although not explicit in the statute, the apparent intent was to foster a “live conversation between physician and patient, whether the conversation takes place by telephone or in person.” Abbott also emphasized that the required informed consent process was to be a “give and take encounter between physician and patient when the information is imparted.” His conclusion was that the practice of providing a prerecorded message to a woman, instead of a given and take conversation, was in violation of the statutory requirements.
In addition to ending the practice of the prerecorded informed consent, this ruling will prevent a trend in the abortion industry called “telemed abortions.” “Telemed abortions occur when a doctor prescribes an abortion drug via teleconference to woman in a remote clinic. Once the abortionist has narrated the informed consent information, he remotely opens a drawer in front of the woman by which the abortion drug is presented to her.
The Attorney General ruled that a medical clinic must have an abortion facility license to prescribe and administer these abortion drugs, recognizing that the statutory definition of abortion encompasses this lethal human pesticide. In the opinion, Abbott clarified that the prescription or provision of any drug with the intent to end a pregnancy qualifies as providing an abortion according to the definition in Texas law (cf: Texas Health and Safety Code 245.002: “Abortion means an act or procedure performed after pregnancy has been medically verified and with the intent to cause the termination of a pregnancy other than for the purpose of either the birth of a live fetus or removing a dead fetus. The term does not include birth control devices or oral contraceptives”).
Although this ruling would appear unnecessary, several family planning clinics in San Antonio were caught providing RU-486 without abortion licenses. After being temporarily shut down and fined by the Texas Department of State Health Services, the clinics claimed that chemical abortions do not require the additional abortion facility licenses. At the least, this clarification from the Attorney General will hold the dispensing of abortion drugs to the same medical standards as other abortion procedures in Texas.
Texas Right to Life applauds both of these timely decisions from the Attorney General. While current Texas law protects the health of women and strengthens Texas families in some ways, the clarification of these Pro-Life laws is crucial. Rulings like these are necessary to ensure that the intent of Pro-Life laws are followed and enforced across Texas.
Attorney General Abbott's ruling on informed consent: http://www.oag.state.tx.us/opinions/opinions/50abbott/op/2010/pdf/ga0802.pdf
Attorney General Abbott's ruling on abortion drug licenses: